Senators agree to axe truckies’ tribunal

The federal government appears to have the numbers to abolish a road safety watchdog when parliament resumes next week.

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Crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus, Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm and Nick Xenophon all support axing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, after it set new minimum pay rates which owner-drivers fear will drive them out of business.

Palmer United Party senator Dio Wang and independent John Madigan have now both indicated they are also willing to vote in favour of its abolition, provided funding is re-directed to road safety programs.

The government initially pledged to axe the tribunal after the election, but will now introduce legislation when parliament is recalled next Monday.

It plans on re-directing the $4 million in funding to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

“I want to be assured that the $4 million will be spent on road safety,” Senator Wang told Sky News.

Senator Madigan says he wants to see that the government has a road-map in place to deal with road safety issues.

“That’s what I’m working on at the present time, to put forward a plan that takes on board all people’s concerns so that they’re dealt with and not swept under the carpet,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

The coalition will also move to freeze the new pay rates, set by the tribunal, until 2017.

Acting prime minister Barnaby Joyce welcomed support from crossbenchers.

“That’s precisely what we want,” he told ABC radio.

“We should have absolutely no problem getting this through as quickly as possible.”

* The government has set up a temporary hotline through the Social Services Department to provide financial advice for owner-drivers 1800 007 007.

Victorian government to investigate death of toddler Sanaya Sahib

The actions of welfare agencies in the weeks and months before toddler Sanaya Sahib’s death are to be investigated by the Victorian government.

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The 14-month-old was allegedly murdered by her mother, Sofina Nikat, in Melbourne on Saturday.

Nikat was excused from fronting court on Wednesday after her lawyer, Michael McNamara, raised mental health concerns.

Now state families minister Jenny Mikakos has ordered a probe into how government agencies dealt with the family before the toddler’s death.

“There are strict protocols in place between agencies and services when it comes to sharing information about children,” a government spokeswoman said in a statement.

“The Minister for Families and Children has requested the Commissioner for Children and Young People investigate the death of Sanaya Sahib to determine whether these protocols have been followed by the Department of Health and Human Services and all related agencies.”

Sanaya’s body was found in the Darebin Creek on Sunday less than 24 hours after Nikat told police she had been snatched from her pram in a Heidelberg West park.

Nikat had told police a man of African appearance, smelling of alcohol and wearing no shoes, pushed her to the ground before taking off with the toddler.

She said she gave chase but could not catch him.

Nikat, of Mitcham, was charged with her daughter’s murder on Tuesday.

A public memorial will take place at the Heidelberg park on Friday when balloons will be released to remember Sanaya.

The 14-month-old’s funeral will be held on Saturday with Sanaya’s father – who separated from Nikat a year ago – saying the public is welcome to attend.

 

Eels’ Radradra urged to get off the wing

The Semi-trailer has been parked far too long for his owner’s liking.

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So now Parramatta star Semi Radradra has been told to get off his wing in a bid to get the wheels cranking again.

“If he sits out there and waits for it, it’s not always going to get to him,” coach Brad Arthur said.

“The game’s very fast this year, so there’s some opportunities for the outside backs once the sting gets taken out of the game from the opposition forwards. There’s chances for him to come and get the ball.”

Despite Parramatta soaring high in third spot on the NRL ladder heading into their round seven clash with Manly, their Fijian flyer has been relatively quiet.

His numbers of two tries, four line-breaks, 18 tackle breaks and eight offloads actually make for strong reading, but Eels coach Brad Arthur reckons the two-time Dally M Winger of the Year can do better.

“Every team is pretty smart with their plan against Semi to try and limit the opportunities that he gets,” Arthur said.

“It’s the same when you play against Greg Inglis – you don’t want to kick the ball to him.”

Radradra also has competition for the ball this year.

With new recruits Michael Jennings, Michael Gordon and Kieran Foran arriving over the summer as shiny attacking targets, the 23-year-old Radradra is no longer the sole option in the red zone.

“Maybe we’ve tended to rely on Semi a little bit and we don’t need to as much,” Arthur said.

So if the 23-year-old wants the ball, he’s been told to go get it.

“He’s not a happy man when he doesn’t get the footy, so he’s finding ways to get it,” Arthur said.

“He’s finding ways now to get into the game without the ball being kicked to him all the time. It’d be great if we could get him some open space. Hopefully he can get a few tries.”

Javier Valdez, known for his drug cartel reportage, shot dead in Mexico

Javier Valdez, 50, was shot near the premises of Riodoce, a Mexican news weekly he founded, in his hometown of Culiacan in northwestern Sinaloa state, the source said.

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Valdez was the fifth journalist killed this year in a country plagued by drug violence and corruption, according to officials and media rights groups.

“We are horrified by this tragedy and send our condolences to Javier’s family and those close to him,” said AFP’s global news director Michele Leridon.

“We call on the Mexican authorities to shed all possible light on this cowardly murder,” she added.

“Javier showed extreme courage by spending years investigating the powerful drug cartels in Mexico, knowing that he was risking his life in doing so.”

President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Twitter that he had ordered an “investigation of this outrageous crime.”

RelatedRisking his life

Valdez’s brother Rafael said the reporter had been “very happy” in recent days and had not indicated that he had received threats.

“He was very reserved when it came to his work. He never talked about it so as not to drag people into it,” Rafael Valdez told AFP.

“I asked him several times whether he was afraid. He said yes, he was a human being. So I asked him why he risked his life and he replied: ‘It is something I like doing, and someone has to do it. You have to fight to change things.'”

The court source said forensic investigators were analyzing the crime scene.

Mexico ranks third in the world for the number of journalists killed, after Syria and Afghanistan, according to media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) this month said “Mexico’s press is caught in a deadly cycle of violence and impunity.”

Violence – including killings of journalists – surged in Mexico after the government launched a military campaign against drug gangs a decade ago.

In response to that, Valdez founded Riodoce with two colleagues.

It became a key source of news about the drug war in a state where other media self-censored for fear of violence.

Living in danger

Over a nearly 30-year career, Valdez became one of the most renowned journalists in Sinaloa.

The state is home to one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels.

“Being a journalist is like being on a black list,” Valdez said at a launch of his last book about drug gangs.

“Even though you may have bulletproofing and bodyguards, (the gangs) will decide what day they are going to kill you.”

His brother Rafael said Valdez had not indicated whether he had been working on any particular investigation lately.

He had written about the Sinaloa drug cartel and its now-detained founder Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Valdez worked for the national daily newspaper La Jornada as well as Riodoce.

He had been a local contributor to global news agency AFP for more than 10 years.

He was known for his smile and white Panama hat. Journalists who worked with him said he kept his sense of humor despite the pressures of his job.

RelatedAward-winning coverage

In 2011, the CPJ gave Valdez an International Press Freedom Award for writing about the victims of the drug war.

Valdez also earned a Maria Moors Cabot award from the Columbia University School of Journalism.

Last year, he published a book about drug gangs and the media.

Mexico has seen 102 journalists murdered since 2000, according to RSF.

China’s new Silk Road plan attracts support

It was an ambitious plan unveiled in 2013.

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And, now, it is considerably closer to becoming a reality, with 68 countries and international organisations signing Belt and Road cooperation agreements with China.

China’s initiative is a modern take on the old Silk Road, a vision to revive the network of silk-trade routes across ocean and land of centuries past.

It is designed to instigate an infrastructure-building boom across Central Asia up to Europe to boost trade and improve transport logistics.

The land-based projects are the belt.

Various economic corridors are part of the scheme, involving such countries as Pakistan, Mongolia and Bangladesh.

The maritime route would connect China’s southern provinces to South-East Asia and the east coast of Africa with ports and railways.

Chinese president Xi Jinping says the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative is in full swing.

He says wide consensus was reached at the forum.

“We hope to jointly look for new driving forces for economic growth through Belt and Road construction, establish new platforms for global development, promote re-balance of economic globalisation and stride forward towards the target of building a community of common destiny for mankind.”

Leaders at the summit have agreed to promote a rules-based, open and multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organisation at its core.

In a communique issued at the close of the forum, China and other nations have also stressed the importance of expanding trade and investment based on a level playing field.

But the communique was not agreed upon before some intense discussion, debate and demands.

European Union Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen urged negotiations on equal market access for European Union firms in China be accelerated.

“Chinese companies have full access to the European market when they want to invest in Europe, but, unfortunately, this is not the case with the European companies in the Chinese market. And this is the reason why European companies’ investments with China have decreased. Actually, last year, it dropped some 23 per cent, which is the lowest for 10 years. And it’s only because of problems in the Chinese market, or the lack of market access.”

Mr Xi has pledged $124 billion US for his new Silk Road.

But Western diplomats and China’s key Asian rivals like Japan and India have expressed reservations about China’s motives.

And Jabin Jacob, from the Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies, has told Al Jazeera a number of technical details remain to be ironed out.

“Each of these countries across Asia has different gauges for their railway tracks. So that’s something that needs to be fixed. At the moment, they are just transported from one coach, from one gauge, to another. Then there are issues of … well, questions over currency management, financial transactions, all of this. You know, China is also trying to use this as a vehicle for the internationalisation of the renminbi, but quite a few countries, including allies, so-called allies, are uncomfortable using the Chinese renminbi. They still prefer the US dollar.”

China plans to host another One Belt One Road forum in 2019.

 

Hogan’s AFL cancer news flattens Roughead

The news of Melbourne AFL forward Jesse Hogan’s cancer diagnosis has hit Hawthorn captain Jarryd Roughead particularly hard.

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It came a year to the day that a routine check-up revealed Roughead had suffered a recurrence of melanoma.

The star immediately started treatment that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Roughead, who made a full recovery to play every game this season, offered Hogan his best wishes.

“I was talking to my wife last night and saying it’s 12 months – a lot has happened in that 12 months,” Roughead said.

“When you hear something like this, this morning, it just flattens you because you just don’t wish this upon anyone.

“That’s not what our game is about.”

Roughead knows first-hand that the outpouring of support for Hogan will help the 22-year-old.

“As I said when I went through it, this is something that you know you have the full support (of the AFL),” he said.

“It’s not like the weekend, where you have opposition sides – you know you have everyone in the corner.

“So knowing he has the support of not just the footy world, but the public, everyone is on his side, get’s you through.”

Asked if he could relate to what Hogan was going through, Roughead replied ruefully: “I’m one of the only few who can.

“It brings back memories and emotions … he’s a huge talent (in) the game and you want to see these blokes out on the park. You don’t want to see blokes have to go through this.

“So footy becomes second. You want to make sure he’s alright and just getting himself right before we even think about him coming back.”

Roughead said he would make contact if Hogan wanted to talk, but added the priority was for the Melbourne star to undergo his surgery and deal with the illness.

“When the dust settles, there might be a time to reach out and offer a hand if he wants a chat,” Roughead said.

Roughead also noted that he and Hogan had vastly different forms of cancer.

“Even though the big word is the word starting with ‘C’ – you don’t want to hear that at all – each case is different,” he said.

WA could host second welfare card trial

Cashless welfare cards could soon be rolled out across a second Western Australian site, with three Goldfield towns throwing their hats in the ring to take part in an upcoming trial.

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The federal government will continue two existing debit card test runs – one in the East Kimberley region of WA and another at Ceduna in South Australia – and is looking for two more trial sites.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge will visit Kalgoorlie, Laverton and Leonora on Wednesday to meet with community leaders.

“They have certainly been one of the groups that has reached out and said that they would like to explore the introduction of the card in their region,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“But we certainly have not made any decisions and we will be having discussions in relation to it tomorrow.”

The cards quarantine 80 per cent of welfare payments, which cannot be used to buy booze or gamble but can pay for housing, food, clothing, household supplies and essentials.

The remaining 20 per cent of a welfare payment is placed in a person’s regular bank account and can be withdrawn as cash.

A recent review of the two existing trials found the cards had been effective in reducing alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and gambling.

However half the participants surveyed said their lives were worse than before the trials.

Mr Tudge said many other regions had put their hands up for the cards but the government would limit the trials to two additional areas.

“In Western Australia, there are many troubled regions where welfare-fuelled alcohol abuse particularly causes all sorts of harm,” he said.

“Consequently, in Western Australia I have had community leaders from right across the state who have approached me in relation to it.”

Mr Tudge said the intention has never been to roll out the cards nationally, with the cards instead developed to focus on particular regions in need.

The two new cashless welfare card trials are expected to start in September.

Jetstar adds $30 fare for babies on laps

Parents travelling on Jetstar domestic flights will now be charged $30 to have their baby sit on their lap, and $50 on Trans-Tasman or international flights.

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The new fees, including the rise from $40 to $50 for international baby-carrying journeys, were introduced on Monday and apply to adults nursing children under two. The fees don’t affect flights already booked.

Jetstar’s domestic fee matches Tigerair’s $30 charge for babies travelling on a guardian’s lap, in place since 2009.

Jetstar’s new fee covers an entire one-way journey – such as Hobart to Melbourne to the Gold Coast – unlike Tigerair which slaps the charge on each leg of a one-way trip.

Qantas and Virgin Australia do not charge a fee for babies (0-23 months) on domestic flights.

A Jetstar spokesman said the new fees also allow for up to four oversized infant items such as a stroller, pram, highchair and portable cot – a bonus not offered by other airlines.

“Like other oversized items, there is additional manual handling and equipment required for oversized infant items like prams,” he said on Tuesday.

The $10 hike to international flight fees is also the first increase since 2010.

“We know that fees and charges can be unpopular, but giving customers choice and charging each customer for what they actually need helps us to offer the lowest possible fares, every day,” the Jetstar spokesman said.

NURSING BABIES ON AUSTRALIAN FLIGHTS: A BONUS OR A BURDEN?

* Jetstar – $30 for domestic one-way journeys, $50 for Trans-Tasman or international one-way journeys

* Tigerair – $30 for each flight on a domestic one-way journey, no international flights offered

* Qantas – Free on domestic or Trans-Tasman flights, 10 per cent of full fare for international flights

* Virgin Australia – Free for domestic flights, 10 per cent of full fare for Trans-Tasman or international flights

Questions raised over Thai government’s control of online content

Facebook is still operating in Thailand despite government threats to block the highly popular social media over breaches of the country’s strict lese majeste laws.

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The Thai government had threatened to block Facebook if posts critical of the country’s revered monarchy were not removed.

The lese majeste laws have been in place for three years and have seen about 100 people jailed, many of them for comments made online.

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But for one expert, the stoush has raised more serious questions about the extent of the government’s influence over online services and content within Thailand.

Digital media expert Aim Sinpeng told SBS World News questions needed to answered about the amount of power the Thai government had over what its citizens saw online.

“The bigger questions we should be asking ourselves is what are some of the other stuff that the government has asked ISP providers, or third party companies like Facebook, for co-operation that have been agreed to that the public doesn’t know about?” she said.

“The government first, when they’re trying to limit the flow of certain information or content online, they first discuss this with companies that are basically the ones that are providing the internet, and once that fails or that didn’t go as planned then they actually reach out to the general public.

“I think the bigger question we should ask ourselves is how much can the government have in negotiating with the internet service providers but also Facebook Thailand as a company in filtering or managing online discussions overall.”

Watch: Thai King threatens Facebook following crop top video 0:00 Share

She said Facebook’s continued operation in the country did not surprise her.

“Particularly because Facebook is the most popular social networking site in Thailand, and Thailand is one of the most Facebook active countries in the world actually,” she said.

“The penetration rate is over 90 per cent. And [it is] a very small number of users that the regime is targeting who have anti-regime views, or in particular, violating lese mageste law are very, very, very few minority compared to the overall size of the number of internet, Facebook users.”

Dr Sinpeng said the public dressing down of Facebook was seen as more of a “severe warning for Facebook Thailand”.

She said people were more likely to be concerned about how they would connect with people without Facebook than whether they were going to be arrested for political activity online.

Dr Sinpeng said blocking Facebook entirely would be a big step for the Thai government to take.

“The social backlash and the political consequences of shutting down Facebook would be really significant for the regime’s ability,” she said.

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SA coroner blasts stroke death reports

Authorities might not be able to investigate two stroke deaths at Royal Adelaide Hospital in April because they weren’t properly reported.

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State Coroner Mark Johns says SA Health’s tardiness in providing him with necessary details about the deaths means it’s likely too late to order autopsies, making it impossible for him to piece together what happened.

Mr Johns says only one of the deaths was the subject of a timely report but it failed to mention that a neuro-interventionist had been unavailable at the time, which might have contributed to the death.

“Had the coroner been aware of that information when the death was reported, it is likely he would have directed an autopsy. It is now too late for that,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr Johns said he was forced to seek information from SA Health about the second death after learning about it in the media and is waiting to receive case notes.

He said he believed the situation was another example of junior medical officers with little connection to a patient preparing medical reports of death.

“That practice results in a lack of transparency,” he said.

Mr Johns also chided SA Health for making “misleading” statements about how it reported the deaths.

“It is misleading to allow the public to think it was reported in a manner that would enable the coroner to investigate effectively the issues that are now emerging,” he said.

SA Health said under law, medical practitioners reporting a death to the coroner are obliged to provide their own opinion of the cause of death and it is not the department’s place to interfere with it.

“It is not for SA Health to intervene in their clinical opinion,” the department said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We’ll continue to work with the coroner’s office about the information they require in cases such as these going forward.”

Intelligence communities concerned about impact of Trump’s Russia leak

There’s alarm among intelligence communities about allegations that US President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with senior Russian officials in Washington last week.

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It is alleged Mr Trump revealed highly-classified information about a plot, by self-proclaimed Islamic State, to top Russian officials during a meeting last week in the Oval Office.

The Washington Post newspaper cited what it said were current and former US officials as saying the disclosure potentially jeopardised a source of intelligence.

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The White House has denied the reports, as has Russia’s foreign ministry, both stakeholders labeling the reports are ‘fake’.

It is believed the information related to an IS terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

It is also believed Mr Trump’s alleged sharing of the information came before the US had shared it with its closest intelligence partners – the so-called Five Eyes alliance, which consists of the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

The group formed in the aftermath of the Second World War and acts as the intelligence eyes and ears of the western world, with a network of shared secretive, high tech surveillance stations and satellites that eavesdrop on telecommunications and internet traffic worldwide.

Associate Professor Patrick Walsh is with the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security at Charles Sturt University.

He told SBS World News the current geopolitical situation, together with Australia’s involvement in the Five Eyes alliance, meant it is of particular concern to Australia.

“It’s obviously very concerning to the US intelligence community, and to the Five Eyes intelligence community, of which we are part,” he said.

Watch: Trump revealed classified info in ‘boast’ to Russia’s foreign minister 0:00 Share

 

“In general terms, yes, leaders talk about political events, and some of that draws from intelligence.

“But, if the allegation is true, it’s terribly troubling at a time when the western relationship with Russia is at an all-time low, and there isn’t anywhere near the level of trust that expect to allow that sort of thing to happen.”

Associate Professor Walsh said this latest event would cause nervousness behind the scenes at high levels of Australia’s intelligence community.

He said while it wouldn’t ruin the intelligence relationship between Australia and its biggest ally, it would raise alarm bells.

“Publically, political decision makers in Canberra wouldn’t comment on this, but naturally, they’d be concerned, as would the Australian intelligence community [be],” Associate Professor Walsh said.

“There’s a long history of sharing intelligence with the US and other members of the Five Eyes, and that will survive this administration, because of the broader national interest for that to be the case.

“But it is deeply concerning, I would say, to people in Canberra, and there would be some reticence in terms of that sharing relationship, and some sort of risk management, risk assessment, going on, to the extent that that’s possible in Canberra, about sharing intelligence.

“I wouldn’t suggest for a minute that the tap is going to be turned off, because that’s not in our interest. But there’ll certainly be some reticence.”

Related reading

Mr Trump has previously clashed, very publicly, with his own country’s intelligence community.

And former Australian ambassador Kim Beazley told the ABC the intelligence and related communities in the US were not happy.

“Trump and his relationships are so comprehensively trashed, his standing with law enforcement and the intelligence community, that the normal level of quietness that emanates from them is no longer doing so,” Mr Beazley said.

The federal government has reacted cautiously to the alleged incident.

Government minister Zed Seselja has told Sky News the US intelligence relationship was of great importance to Australia – and any concerns Australia had wouldn’t be played out in public.

“The Five Eyes is very important for Australia,” he said.

“And we benefit greatly from those arrangements. And there is a significant degree of trust within that.

“And we’ve got no reason to doubt, or have concerns, about any of those issues. Of course, to the extent that there are issues in these relationships- and I’m not suggesting that there are- these would be expressed privately rather than publically.”

Related reading

Trump: ‘As president I wanted to share facts with Russia’

Tuesday morning local time, the US president tweeted that he “wanted to share with Russia.

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.. facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety”.

The tweets appeared to defend to contradict comments made Monday by his National Security Advisor and the Kremlin spokesperson.

The Washington Post had reported that Trump revealed highly classified information on the Islamic State group during a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Moscow’s man in Washington Sergey Kislyak.

In a shock twist, the intelligence reportedly came from a US ally who did not authorise Washington to share it with Moscow. That development that could shatter trust that is essential to intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation.

National Security Advisor HR McMaster denied the president had revealed “intelligence sources or methods,” but acknowledged that Trump and Lavrov “reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation”.

Related

The Post, citing unnamed officials, said that Trump went off script during the meeting, describing details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes, revealing the city where the information was gathered.

The Trump administration recently barred the use of laptops in the passenger cabin from several countries in the Middle East and is mulling the expansion of that ban to cover jets originating in Europe.

As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017

“There’s nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” McMaster said without elaborating on which elements were wrong.

“Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”

…to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017

The Kremlin described as “complete nonsense” the media reports.

“It’s not a subject for us, it’s the latest piece of nonsense. We don’t want to have anything do to with this nonsense. It’s complete nonsense, not a subject to be denied or confirmed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.

Related reading

McMaster earlier refused to answer questions to a group of journalists gathered in the West Wing, saying “this is the last place I wanted to be” before leaving.

The revelations are the latest in a wave of crises to hit the White House, which late Monday was in a state of shock, with aides frantically trying to put out the fire and determine the source of such damaging leaks.

Since coming to office in January, Trump has lurched from crisis to crisis, lampooning the intelligence services, law enforcement and the media along the way.

Related reading

Last week, Trump threw his administration into turmoil by taking the virtually unprecedented step of firing his FBI director James Comey.

Comey had been overseeing investigations into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia to skew the 2016 election.

The meeting came a day after that firing, and was already controversial in itself, a red carpet welcome for top aides of Vladimir Putin just months after being hit with US sanctions for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. 

Trump’s administration was left red-faced after Moscow surprised them by releasing pictures of what was meant to be a closed-door meeting.

Ryan wants ‘full explanation’

But political and legal experts said this latest alleged misstep is among the most egregious so far of the Trump presidency.

“This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States,” renowned legal expert Alan Dershowitz told CNN late Monday.

For Trump’s already weary allies in Congress, the latest crisis brought more headaches and demanded yet more explanation from an administration that is struggling to leave its legislative mark.

“We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount,” said Doug Andres, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. 

“The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”

Senior Republican Senator John McCain told CNN that “if it’s true, it’s obviously disturbing.” But he cautioned: “Let’s wait and see what this was all about first.”

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer accused Trump of potentially putting American lives at risk.

“If the report is true, it is very disturbing. Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country,” he said.

“The president owes the intelligence community, the American people and Congress a full explanation.”

Watch: Journalist defends Trump Russia report 0:00 Share

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Syria using ‘crematorium’ to hide mass killing: US

Warning Moscow it should not turn a blind eye to Bashar al-Assad’s crimes, the State Department released satellite images that it said backed up reports of mass killings at a Syrian jail.

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“The United States is on record, has stated many times, that we are appalled by the atrocities that have been carried out by the Syrian regime,” said Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat for the Middle East.

“And these atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran.”

And he added a warning to President Vladimir Putin’s government: “Russia must now, with great urgency, exercise its influence over the Syrian regime to guarantee that horrific violations stop now.”

Images of the alleged crematorium 

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One newly released image, a commercial satellite photograph dating back to January 2015, shows snow melting on the roof of a building attached to the Saydnaya military complex north of Damascus.

This, along with an earlier picture allegedly showing heavy-duty ventilation systems on the structure, appear to support earlier claims by rights groups that Saydnaya is an execution center.

Related reading’Cover up’

“Beginning in 2013, the Syrian regime modified a building within the Saydnaya complex to support what we believe is a crematorium,” said Jones, currently an acting assistant secretary of state.

“Although the regime’s many atrocities are well documented, we believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of the mass murders taking place in Saydnaya.”

Jones said Washington’s information came from credible humanitarian agencies and from the US “intelligence community” — implying that classified evidence beyond the commercial pictures exists.

“The regime holds as many as 70 prisoners in Saydnaya in cells that have a five-person capacity,” Jones alleged.

“And according to multiple sources, the regime is responsible for killing as many as 50 detainees per day at Saydnaya.”

A satellite image of what the US State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium. AAP

He did not give an official estimate for the total number killed, but cited an Amnesty International report that between 5,000 and 11,000 had died between 2011 and 2015 in the prison.

Assad’s regime, he alleged, has detained between 65,000 and 117,000 people over the same period — the first five years of a civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead.

One satellite photograph presented by Jones dated to January 2015, more than two years ago, and it was not immediately clear why the United States waited to present its evidence.

Jones told reporters Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had raised concerns about Assad’s brutality with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Washington last week.

“These allegations are totally unfounded, they are nothing but the product of the imagination of this administration and its agents,” state news agency SANA quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

“Successive US administrations have repeatedly fabricated lies and allegations to justify their aggressive and interventionist policies in other sovereign countries,” the ministry said.

“Yesterday the US administration pulled out a new Hollywood screenplay disconnected from reality, accusing the Syrian government of having, according to the administration, built a crematorium at the Saydnaya prison.”

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Moscow, along with Iran, is the Assad regime’s main foreign backer and Washington believes Russian pressure is the only thing that will compel its ally to negotiate a peace deal.

“I would say that this information has been developing,” Jones said on the timing of the crematorium allegation.

Jones said Washington is not specifically accusing Moscow or Tehran of complicity in the alleged Saydnaya killings, but said Russia is aware of and has supported other abuses.  

And he said last week’s visit by Lavrov to the White House was “an opportune time to remind people about the atrocities that are being carried out inside of Syria all the time.”

US President Donald Trump came to office vowing to focus US efforts in Syria on defeating the Islamic State group, a jihadist force that exploited the civil war to seize the east of the country.

And he said he hoped to work with Putin, whose forces are in Syria to protect Assad’s regime, in this goal.

But relations with Moscow, already dire under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, have not improved and Assad has continued to bombard civilian areas in his battle with opposition rebels.

Then last month, when Assad was again accused of using the banned nerve agent sarin in a strike on his own people, Trump ordered a retaliatory US cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.

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