Syrian rebel forces apparently retake ruins on edge of Raqaq

The self-proclaimed Islamic State took control of the Syrian city of Raqqa from opposition rebel groups in 2014, treating it as the capital of a caliphate spanning large parts of both Syria and neighbouring Iraq.


But last November, Kurdish YPG and Arab forces, collectively known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, began encircling the city, with air support from the United States.

Now, several days into operation Wrath of Euphrates ground forces are reportedly making gains from the north, south and east.

And a new online video purports to show fighters from the forces at the ruins of the thousand-year-old Harqalah fortress outside Raqqa.

It apparently has been captured from IS, known also as Daesh.

“We are in the city of Raqqa, the province of Raqqa. This the first province and the first centre of Daesh in Syria, because they have two centres, one in Iraq in Mosul and the city of Raqqa. This area has been under the control of Daesh for more than five to six years, and they were fortified here. People faced a lot of unfairness. We, in response to the calls made by people, have come to liberate Raqqa, and we liberated two villages, the villages of Rabee and al-Jazra.”

The US-led military coalition estimates thousands of IS fighters could still be inside Raqqa, signalling a potentially difficult fight for incoming forces.

Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition, says the attack against IS is set to accelerate.

He says IS has already suffered massive losses in Iraq, where a campaign to retake the stronghold of Mosul is in its ninth month.

“In this campaign against Daesh, in operations that we as a coalition have supported in Iraq and Syria, Daesh has now lost almost 55,000 square kilometres of territory that it used to control. Over 4 million people that used to be living under Daesh are now free.”

The US move to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria has angered Turkey, which sees the YPG as linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

Turkey has banned the group for its decades-long fight for independence on Turkish territory.

And Turkey says it is prepared to act immediately if any perceived threats arise from operations to take control of Raqqa.

It fears Kurdish participation could embolden the PKK across the border.

A political analyst in Syria, Sarikis Kassargian, says the Raqqa front is a source of US tension with Turkey and Russia, which backs Syrian government forces reportedly also advancing on the city.

“I don’t think that there is an agreement about Raqqa with the US and Russia. More than that, I think that Raqqa is a problem in the relations, between the US and Russia on one side and between the US and Turkey on another side. But it seems that America’s new administration and Trump insist to make a new change, or to make border changes, in this area. So this is why he has pushed the SDF to begin the Raqqa liberation.”

Russia is hosting the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, ahead of a new round of scheduled peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Co-sponsored by Iran and Turkey, the negotiations were expected to focus on so-called “de-escalation zones.”

Mr De Mistura, visiting Moscow for the third time this year, has urged Russia to coordinate efforts at the talks with those happening in Geneva under UN auspices.

“We want to share together our own thoughts about the next round of Geneva talks and how the Astana discussions will be, in a way, connected and connectable both, since, without a good de-escalation process, the Geneva talks will be difficult but, without the Geneva progress, there will be no horizon. So they are very closely interconnected.”

Dark future for coal-fired power predicted

Australia’s reliance on coal to generate electricity will diminish as conventional power plants reach their use-by date, the country’s chief scientist says.


But the existing market is not equipped to deal with the transition and, if not addressed soon, could impact reliability and security.

Alan Finkel, in a major report into the system published on Friday, said Australia’s coal fleet is old and coming towards the end of its design life.

He predicts generation will decline over the next 30 years.

More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of electricity produced in 2015/2016 came from coal-fired generators.

But by 2035, about 68 per cent of existing coal generating plants will have reached 50 years of age, and investors have signalled they’re unlikely to invest in new coal-fired generation.

“The existing conventional coal-fired generators are unlikely to be replaced with like-for-like generation assets,” he wrote.

Large generators are likely to be replaced by a number of smaller plants, as the cost of wind, large-scale solar, and new gas-fired generators rapidly declines.

However, the existing framework “is not well suited to co-ordinating the transition ahead”.

Generators are being retired with much shorter notice to the market than the time it takes for new capacity to be planned, financed and built.

“This will be problematic in the future where the retirement of large coal-fired generators could have implications for system security and reliability,” Dr Finkel said.

“The security and reliability services that these generators provide can and will be met by other means, but the transition will need to be more closely monitored and managed.”

Key to that will be obliging large generators to provide both the market operator and wider community with more notice of their intention to close.

The report recommends a three-year notification period.

“This will provide time for replacement capacity to be built and for affected communities to plan for change.”

‘Cor Blimey’: How the world reacted as May’s election gamble fell to pieces

By late Thursday evening in the United Kingdom, it appeared as though the writing was on the wall for British Prime Minister Theresa May.


While the final results had not yet been declared, exit polls – which have been historically accurate within 20 seats for major parties – indicated that the Conservatives were facing a hung parliament, throwing Ms May’s Brexit plans into disarray.

Related reading

The shock findings, which were in contrast with polls ahead of the election that indicated Ms May could secure a slim majority, saw media outlets around the world – even those traditionally aligned with the Tories – change their tune.

In the UK, newspapers emphatically splashed mayhem, shock and failure across their front pages as the exit polls pointed to the Conservatives losing a grip on their overall majority.

INDEPENDENT DIGITAL: Black and Blue: May’s election gamble misfires #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/dDEYH1WRAQ

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) June 8, 2017THE SUN: Mayhem #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/NUxIteJjEG

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) June 8, 2017THE TIMES 2AM: May’s big gamble fails #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/DepKodhtFM

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) June 9, 2017MIRROR UPDATED: Cor Blimey #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/4g3pM7SXDd

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) June 9, 2017TELEGRAPH 2AM: May’s gamble backfires #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/vextSIRUlm

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) June 9, 2017

In France, where the impact of far-right rhetoric continues to reverberate, with Emmanuel Macron’s victory still fresh in the minds of the French, front pages including ‘Le Figaro’ and ‘La Croix’ also pointed to UK uncertainty. 

Across the Atlantic, former FBI director James Comey’s testimony dominated news coverage, with the UK election overlooked altogether on the front page of ‘The Washington Post’, however the election did raise a mention on ‘The New York Times’ and the ‘Los Angeles Times’ – just.

Comey to testify about his relationship with Trump. Here’s tomorrow’s front page: pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/xhntH5s4fY

— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) June 8, 2017Today’s Front Page of The New York Times (长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/pQcClsPiru) via @Newseum #TFP 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/kfafiuhGBI pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/LOD2j7f9Tk

— Franklin Lopez (@trueblue51) June 8, 2017

While newspapers back home were limited by time constraints, Rupert Murdoh’s ‘The Australian’ was angling for a big win to “reset May authority”. Later digital editions by mastheads including ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ and the ‘Herald Sun’ spelled doom for Theresa May.

The font page of The Australian, Friday, June 9, 2017.The Australian

Earth to be shared with robots: astronaut

Dr Dan Barry has seen every country in the world from space but only this week did he step foot on his seventh continent.


The retired NASA astronaut touched down in Sydney this week to address dozens of business and science minds at AMP Capital’s Amplify conference on Wednesday night.

His closing speech, The Edge of Wonder, explored the level of trust humanity should extend to machines, as the decision to put human life in the hands of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) looms on the horizon.

Dr Barry is one of 550-odd people who’ve had the chance to go to space. It takes eight minutes to reach orbit and 45 minutes to re-enter and land, he says.

The 63-year-old has been on three space missions including two visits to the International Space Station (ISS) and four space walks.

After 13 rejected applications, the American was accepted into the astronaut program in 1992.

Every single person selected by the Chief of the Astronaut Office that year went on to fly in space, he says.

“People say: ‘You trusted a machine with your life’? But that’s not really quite true,” Dr Barry told the conference.

“We went around in that first year of training and we met the people who built the shuttle. You look them in the eye and you say ‘That weld has my life in it’ and you recognise those people understand that.

“I didn’t really trust the machine, I trusted the people who built that machine. And the robots aren’t going to be able to take that away.”

The Boston engineer, who has also delivered a TEDx talk from Antarctica’s Scott Base, runs two robotics companies but insists machines won’t “take all the jobs” from humans.

“I think the robots are going to take the jobs that are below human dignity to do,” he said.

“There should not be anybody that wastes their lives for 40 years digging ditches.

“We shouldn’t waste a human mind doing repetitive, detailed things that ‘AI’ can be so good at.”

He says humans will reap the benefits, rather than lose out, if companies hand robots the most mundane jobs.

Meanwhile, Dr Barry said the easiest jobs should stay available for workers who are feeling unwell or are suffering an injury.

He said the intelligence of these machines is broad, he says, and the level of trust varies greatly – AI ranges from bricklaying robots to bodyguards, drones, autonomous vehicles, remote-controlled surgery and brain implants.

“In the end, we’re going to trust these things with our lives,” Dr Barry said.

“We have to decide at what level do you want these things to exist? At what level are you willing to trust them?”

The key, he says, is complementing each other rather than competing.

While ‘AIs’ get all of the details right they are oblivious to the bigger picture, whereas humans understand the particulars of a situation and when the rule book might need to be ignored, such as with insurance policies or certain laws.

But AI can only progress in industries outside of robotics – such as law and finance – if information is shared, problem-solving software embraced, and companies stop trying to individually reinvent the wheel, Dr Barry said.

Proof of what humans are capable of, he says, can be seen when looking down on Earth at night from the space station: “We light this thing up like a Christmas tree”.

“That is the representation of intelligence in our entire galaxy. We don’t know of any other planet lit up at night, not even one light on any other planet,” Dr Barry said.

“That represents people working together, developing technology, trusting each other, sharing resources.

“And this sort of view gives me optimism. We’ve made the world an amazing place and we’re going to take it all over the galaxy some day, if we trust each other.”

Pendlebury wary of Dees AFL veteran Vince

He’s far from their most glamorous player but Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury knows first-hand that Bernie Vince can be a game-winner for Melbourne.


The Demons veteran has been a thorn in Pendlebury’s side during their past few meetings, tagging the star Magpie to great effect while also winning plenty of his own ball.

Vince has polled Brownlow medal votes in all four of his games against the Magpies in Melbourne colours, including two games where he was judged to be best afield.

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin is likely to be tempted to use Vince in a tagging role again when the two sides face off in the Queen’s Birthday game at the MCG.

The Magpies are looking to notch their fourth consecutive win but have lost their past three meetings with the Demons.

“They haven’t really been close – he’s given me a touch-up the last few years,” Pendlebury said on Friday.

“Then last year he played off the back-flank and I think had 40-something (disposals).

“He’s someone that we’ll look to put a bit of time into ourselves. He’s been a really important part of Melbourne getting over the line, as well as their midfield, the last three times we’ve played them.

“We certainly respect Melbourne. We’ve identified what we think they’re really good at and we’ll try and take that away from them.”

Collingwood have been forced to make at least three changes, with Daniel Wells (calf), Jamie Elliott (ankle) and Tyson Goldsack (shoulder) ruled out.

Alex Fasolo will return after taking a break to deal with mental health issues while Callum Brown – the son of former Magpies skipper Gavin – will debut at what’s likely to be a packed MCG.

“He’s a guy that came in and was really impressive early, then got glandular fever and had a bit of an interrupted run,” Pendlebury said of Brown.

“He’s played five or six games now in the VFL. He won’t be overawed by the stage. He’s a really hard-at-it guy and a fierce competitor.”

China rolls out green carpet for California on climate

Since Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal, China has repeatedly vowed to uphold the accord and work with American states that share its determination.


Giving a warm welcome to California Governor Jerry Brown, an opposition Democrat and self-described “envoy for humanity”, while cold shouldering US Energy Secretary Rick Perry signalled Beijing was happy to bypass Washington to make that happen.


“I think the message is that irrespective of the decision of Donald Trump, China is willing to work with individual states and cities in the United States,” said Willy Lam, an expert on politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

‘Losing ground’

Brown and Perry arrived in Beijing for a ministerial-level clean energy meeting just days after Trump’s shock announcement. 

While Perry maintained a relatively low profile during his visit, Brown, who had described Trump’s move as “insane”, went on a public relations offensive as he sought to fill the vacuum left by the US leader in the climate change fight.  

“We are losing ground. We are not moving at the pace needed to prevent catastrophe,” Brown warned Thursday on the sidelines of the gathering. 

Brown used several public appearances in Beijing to drum up Chinese support for California’s aggressive efforts to curb climate-warming carbon emissions, including face-to-face talks with Xi in the Great Hall of the People, a venue normally reserved for meetings with visiting heads of state. 

His efforts yielded results.

By the end of a week-long tour Brown said he had secured several preliminary agreements relating to clean energy and the establishment of a China-California climate institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing. 

China is a “major economic engine that is investing in the low-carbon economy and California is doing things that are similar, on a smaller level of course,” Brown told AFP.

Chinese officials have made it clear they want to work with the American state and beyond.  

California has “a lot of experience that is beneficial to the rest of us”, Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, told a forum attended by Brown on Thursday.

“We will not only continue to strengthen cooperation with California, but also strengthen concrete cooperation with other US states, cities, enterprises and scientific research institutions in fields including clean energy.”

WATCH: What is the Paris Climate Agreement?

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Perry snubbed?

Trump’s backsliding on the Paris deal is viewed as handing China the mantle in the battle against global warming – an opportunity Beijing welcomes as it seeks to become a world leader on everything from globalisation to the environment.

But it also fits with China’s domestic political agenda of being seen to do more to clean up its polluted air and rivers and find new ways of spurring economic growth.

Perry called for Sino-US cooperation on clean energy, noting America was still keen to work with China despite Trump’s decision to exit the global climate agreement.

“We have extraordinary opportunities to be partners to work on clean energy issues,” said Perry, who was granted a reception with China’s number seven, Zhang Gaoli, in the central leadership compound.

While Perry’s meeting with Zhang could be interpreted as a diplomatic snub to the US official, analysts said it may also mean that China has not given up on Washington. 

“It’s probably trying to send some signal that China is still trying to cooperate,” said Tom Rafferty, China regional manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit.


No gas without GST change: WA premier

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan is threatening not to connect a gas pipeline to the east coast until his state gets a fairer share of GST revenue.


The WA Labor leader made the threat sitting next to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other premiers at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Hobart on Friday.

The COAG meeting ended with no resolution on changing the GST revenue sharing system.

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman, who hosted the meeting, said he was delighted there had been no agreement on changing the formula, as the current system was based on the notion of a “fair go for all Australians no matter where they live”.

But Mr McGowan told reporters his state, which gets back 34 cents in the dollar from the GST, had been “comprehensively dudded”.

“WA is a major gas producer in the nation but we would expect action on GST before such time as we approve a gas pipeline across WA to connect to the eastern states,” he said.

“We are prepared to take tough measures and take the issue up forcefully.”

Mr McGowan proposed to the meeting that a proportion of state mining royalties be excluded when calculating a state’s capacity to raise revenue.

“If you exclude 25 per cent of mining royalties from the GST distribution, the states that have a mining industry and encourage it will be rewarded for doing so,” he said.

He also suggested counting gambling revenues in the formula, which would also work as an incentive to reduce the number of poker machines – which WA does not allow.

“You get more GST if you have less gambling,” he said.

Mr McGowan reiterated his support for a floor in the GST, which the prime minister has previously backed but indicated would need to wait until it could be guaranteed no state loses out.

ANZ shifts rates mix against interest-only

ANZ is raising variable rates on its interest-only mortgages by another 0.


3 percentage points as it reins in riskier lending in response to regulatory changes.

And the lender further increased incentives for customers to shift away from interest-only mortgages by announcing it will cut variable rates on principal and interest home loans by 0.05 percentage points and scrap fees for switching.

The moves announced Friday apply to both residential and investor mortgages from June 16.

“While we know those only paying interest on their loans will be disappointed, we need to manage our regulatory obligations and we are now required to hold additional capital against our home loans,” ANZ group executive Australia Fred Ohlsson said.

In March, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority told banks to limit higher risk interest-only loans to 30 per cent of new residential mortgages.

That prompted the big lenders to hike those rates to make loans less attractive in comparison to principal and interest loans, while increasing the amount of capital they generate.

The move appears to have worked, with a drop in investor lending driving a total 1.9 per cent seasonally adjusted fall in housing-related lending for April.

“This is no surprise given the combination of out of cycle rate hike largely aimed at investors and the introduction of additional macro prudential regulation by APRA in late March,” ANZ senior economist Jo Masters said.

“The data suggest those measures have had an immediate impact.”

ANZ already lifted its interest-only variable rate by 0.25 percentage points in March, and the following month hiked some of its fixed rates for interest-only borrowers by 0.4 percentage points.

ANZ said that more than 80 per cent of owner-occupier borrowers would benefit as its standard variable rate for owner occupiers comes down to 5.20 per cent.

APRA curbs weigh on home loan approvals

Home loan volumes fell by more than expected in April in another sign that tighter lending conditions are starting to cool the runaway property market that has worried regulators.


The number of home loan approvals fell 1.9 per cent during the month – compared to a 1.0 per cent dip forecast by economists – for a third straight monthly decline.

The value of mortgages declined by a seasonally adjusted 1.6 per cent to $32.4 billion, according to data released on Friday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“Today’s numbers capture the early impact of APRA’s latest rule changes, which limit new interest-only lending,” CBA economist Kristina Clifton said.

“However it is likely to take a number of months before the full impact of these changes can be assessed.”

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority capped interest-only mortgage lending on March 31, telling lenders to limit higher risk interest-only loans to 30 per cent of new residential mortgages.

That set off a fresh round of rate increases by the major lenders, with banks repricing their loan book to make interest-only and investor loans more expensive.

The decline in April was driven by a 2.3 per cent fall in the value of loans for investment housing, while the value of loans approved for owner-occupied housing fell 1.1 per cent.

JP Morgan economist Henry St John said it was still too early to assess the efficacy of macro-prudential policy, but noted that lenders have continued to tighten rates in recent weeks.

“Moreover, there is evidence the Sydney and Melbourne property markets are cooling, which supports the view that these revamped macro-prudential measures are having the desired effect,” he said in a note.

On Friday, ANZ announced it is raising variable rates on its interest-only mortgages by another 0.3 percentage points.

The lender further increased incentives to shift away from interest-only mortgages by announcing it will cut variable rates on principal and interest home loans by 0.05 percentage points and scrap fees for switching.

The Reserve Bank of Australia this week kept the cash rate at 1.50 per cent despite weak economic growth, because of fears of further fuelling risks in the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets.

Economists expect further slowing in the investor segment in coming months and a broad cooling in the housing market.

What the states said about COAG



Mark McGowan ramped up Western Australia’s attack against the GST distribution, threatening to withhold the state’s gas resources from needy eastern states if action isn’t taken.


“WA is a major gas producer in the nation but we would expect action on GST before such time as we approve a gas pipeline across WA to connect to the eastern states. We are prepared to take tough measures and take the issue up forcefully.”


Daniel Andrews was happy about a special COAG meeting on terrorism but insists it must result in concrete steps to keep Australians safe. “I think we are at a point in our nation’s history where we have to give very serious consideration to giving law enforcement some tools and powers that they don’t enjoy today.”


Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed the Finkel review, insisting that while her state was already playing its part on national energy supply it was prepared to do more. “We have opened up over 400 square kilometres of gas exploration, solely used for domestic supply. We are happy to continue that.”


Jay Weatherill wasn’t happy about schools funding, insisting his state still misses out on $265 million under Gonski 2.0. “It is a long way short of what we agreed. We are going to continue to press that.”


Gladys Berejiklian acknowledged the federal government’s adoption of needs-based funding for schools but maintained it fell short of the original Gonski agreement.


Andrew Barr said the federal government’s national rail program needed to fix the 19th century rail service between Sydney and Canberra.”One that is befitting of the national capital and Sydney as Australia’s international city being properly connected by a rail service that doesn’t travel at a speed that someone could run faster next to the train.”


Michael Gunner said a COAG agreement to develop northern Australia needed to be done in full partnership with Aboriginal Australians. “The first people are 30 per cent of our population. They own 80 per cent of our coastline and 50 per cent of our land. We have to work with them.”