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People around the globe have gathered to welcome in the New Year, with New Zealand and Australia leading the celebrations.

A giant clock in Auckland’s Sky Tower counted down the minutes until midnight, when fireworks erupted.New Year celebrations 2015

Up to 1.5 million people have lined the shores of Sydney harbor in preparation for the city’s famous firework display.

Celebration plans have been muted in Indonesia, however, in the wake of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash.

In Brazil, more than one million people will join the crowds on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, while New Yorkers will watch the city lower its trademark crystal ball over Times Square.

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Mersane Warria have been charged with the murder of seven of her children and her niece in the Australian city of Cairns.

Mersane Warria, 37, was charged while in hospital where she is being treated under guard for self-inflicted knife wounds, police say.

Post-mortem examinations are being carried out to determine the exact cause of the eight victims’ deaths.

The four boys and four girls were aged between 18 months and 14 years.

Police found a number of weapons at the scene, including knives, which are being examined.Cairns murders Australia

Officers said they were looking at various possibilities for the deaths, including suffocation.

The bodies were reportedly discovered by the mother’s 20-year-old son arriving at the home on December 19.

Police have dismissed reports the family had been investigated by social services saying it was “not a problem house”.

Memorials have sprung up outside the home in the Manoora district of Cairns.

A church service was held on Sunday morning to remember the children.

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The mother of 7 of 8 Australian children stabbed to death in a home in Cairns has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

The 37-year-old mother was lucid and talking to investigators, police said. She has not been charged.

The woman was found at the property, suffering stab wounds, alongside the bodies of the eight children.

They were aged 18 months to 15 years. Police have not said how they died. The eighth child was her niece.

Confirming the arrest, Cairns Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said: “The 37-year-old mother of several of the children involved in this incident has been arrested for murder overnight and is currently under police guard at the Cairns Base Hospital.”Cairns children mother arrested

“At this stage we’re not looking for anybody else – we’re comfortable that the community at large is safe,” he added.

A coroner is due to conduct autopsies on the children to determine the cause of death.

Police found a number of weapons at the scene which are being examined as part of investigations.

The woman’s name has not been released. Her age was first given as 34 but has since been corrected to 37.

A candlelight vigil and church service was held on Friday evening for the children.

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott said in a statement it was an “unspeakable crime”.

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The bodies of 8 children have been found in a Cairns home, northern Queensland, say Australian police.

Police said a 34-year-old woman who was the mother of at least seven of the children had been taken to hospital with stab wounds but was stable.

Police have not confirmed Australian reports that the children, aged between 18 months and 15 years, were stabbed.

Australian PM Tony Abbott said in a statement it was an “unspeakable crime”.

He said all parents would feel “gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened”.

The house in the Manoora suburb has been cordoned off and detectives are searching the yard.

Police have said it was a “tragic event” but there was no cause for public concern.

They have not made any arrests, but said the injured woman was assisting with their investigations.

Cairns Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar confirmed to reporters that the woman was the mother of at least seven of the children, but that formal identification of the bodies had not yet taken place.Australian children found dead in Cairns

“We believe the other child is a family member but that is being followed up,” he said.

He said police could not confirm how the children died until coroners’ reports were carried out.

Police are speaking to a range of people, he said, including a man seen near the house earlier in the day, but there are as yet no formal suspects.

Specialist police officers were being brought in from Brisbane, he said, including child trauma experts.

Queensland Police said in a statement earlier that they were called to a residence in Murray Street at 11.20AM local time following reports of a woman with serious injuries.

“During an examination of the residence police located the bodies of the children, all aged between 18 months and 15 years,” said the statement.

Local people have told reporters that the children were found by their elder sibling, a 20-year-old man, when he returned to the house, but police have not confirmed this.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said he was “deeply saddened and shocked” by the events.

The deaths come with Australia still reeling from the siege of a cafe in Sydney which ended on Tuesday morning, with the gunman and two hostages dead.

PM Tony Abbott said in his statement that these were “trying days for our country”.

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Man Haron Monis – the gunman behind Sydney café siege – was wanted in Iran since 14 years ago, but Australia refused to hand him over.

The head of Iran’s police, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told reporters that Man Haron Monis was wanted for fraud at the time.

He said Man Haron Monis had fled to Australia via Malaysia in the late 1990s.

Man Haron Monis and two hostages were shot dead on Tuesday morning, when commandos stormed the Sydney cafe where he had been holding captives for 16 hours.

Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said Man Haron Monis was known in Iran as “Manteqi”.

“In 1996, he was the manager of a travel agency and committed fraud,” the general told reporters.Man Haron Monis wanted Iran

“He then fled to Malaysia and from there, to Australia under a fake name.”

He added that “since we did not have an agreement on the extradition of criminals with Australia, the Australian police refused to extradite him”.

Man Haron Monis applied for political asylum to obtain refugee status in Australia, Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said, describing the incident as “a play”.

Meanwhile the Australian government has announced it is investigating why Man Haron Monis was released on bail on separate charges.

He had a history of religiously inspired activism, but officials say there is as yet no evidence his actions were linked to international Islamist movements.

In 2008, Man Haron Monis he was convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of fallen Australian soldiers in 2009.

In 2013, he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, and given bail.

Man Haron Monis also faced more than 40 s**ual and indecent assault charges.

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Sydney cafe hostage-taker Man Haron Monis was not on Australia’s terror watch list.

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott said the government would examine why Man Haron Monis had been on bail.

The prime minister paid tribute to the two hostages who died in Monday’s siege, describing them as “good people”.

The two hostages and Man Haron Monis died as police commandos stormed the cafe in Martin Place early on Tuesday morning, ending the 16-hour siege.

An investigation has been launched into the police operation.

Police are also investigating the motives of Man Haron Monis – an Iranian refugee who was a known extremist and faced multiple criminal charges – and how he got a gun.

At a press conference, PM Tony Abbott said: “How can someone who has had such a long and chequered history not be on the appropriate watch lists and how can someone like that be entirely at large in the community.

“These are questions that we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically.”

However, Tony Abbott added that it was “possible” that the siege would have taken place even if Man Haron Monis had been on a watch list.

“The level of control that would be necessary to prevent people from going about their daily life would be very, very high indeed,” he said.Man Haron Monis

The victims have been named as cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34 and Sydney lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38.

Tony Abbott described the victims as “decent, good people” who were “caught up in the sick fantasy of a deeply disturbed individual”.

In Martin Place, people have been arriving to sign condolence books and leave flowers in their memory.

Central Sydney was put in lockdown on Monday morning as the gunman entered the Lindt Chocolat Cafe and seized 17 hostages.

Five hostages managed to sprint to safety on Monday afternoon. Several more escaped in the early hours of Tuesday, as commandos stormed the cafe.

At a press conference on Tuesday, NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn would not say whether Man Haron Monis shot the two hostages himself.

Nor would she confirm media reports that cafe manager Tori Johnson was shot when he grappled with Man Haron Monis. But she said that “every single one of those hostages acted courageously”.

Asked if police stormed the cafe because of something they saw or heard from within the cafe, Commissioner Catherine Burn would say only that “shots were heard and an emergency action plan was activated”.

She said it was “extremely important that I do not say a great deal about the events of the past 24 hours” while the investigation is under way.

The investigation – standard practice when police are involved in a fatal incident – is being led by New South Wales Homicide Squad detectives on behalf of the state’s coroner, and could take weeks or months.

A policeman who was hit in the face by shotgun pellets during the raid has since been discharged from hospital. Three others who suffered gunshot wounds are in a stable condition, NSW Police said in a statement.

Two of the hostages who were pregnant were uninjured but taken to hospital for “health and welfare purposes”, NSW police said.

An exclusion zone remains in place for several blocks around the crime scene, along with some road closures. Police have promised more police on the streets over the holiday period.

During the siege Man Haron Monis apparently forced hostages to hold up a flag showing the Islamic creed in the cafe window.

A church service was held at St Mary Cathedral, near the Lindt Cafe, on December 16 to mourn the victims.

Police have stormed Sydney’s Lindt cafe, ending a 16-hour siege by a gunman identified as an Iranian refugee who took dozens of hostages.

Paramedics carrying stretchers raced towards the cafe moments after the commandos entered the building. Several people were injured.

Unconfirmed local reports say two people, including the gunman, died.

The centre of the city has been in lockdown since the gunman seized the hostages early on Monday morning.

Early in the siege, hostages were forced to hold up a black Islamic banner at the window.

The cafe is located in Martin Place, a busy shopping area in Sydney’s financial district.

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott said it was “profoundly shocking” that people were being “held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation”.

Shortly after 2AM local time on December 16, several hostages fled from the building.Man Haron Monis Sydney siege

Minutes later, army commandos with assault rifles and wearing helmets and body armor could be seen piling into the cafe, tossing stun grenades ahead of them, and apparently opening fire.

Hostages ran to safety with their hands in the air. A man and a woman were seen being carried to safety by emergency services.

New South Wales police announced the end of the siege at 02:44AM local time in a tweet, promising details later.

The commandos who stormed the building were from the Royal Australian Regiment.

As many as 40 customers and staff were taken hostage. Five managed to escape through a fire exit on Monday afternoon.

Suspected gunman Man Haron Monis, 49, received political asylum in Australia in 1996 and was on bail facing a number of charges.

On a website, now suspended, Man Haron Monis describes himself as a Shia Muslim who converted to Sunni Islam.

The self-styled cleric was described by his former lawyer as an isolated figure.

One of Man Haron Monis’ demands was to have a flag of Islamic State, the Sunni militant group which recently seized territory in Syria and Iraq, to be delivered to the cafe.

Martin Place is home to the state premier’s office and the headquarters of major banks.

At the nearby Sydney Opera House, evening performances were cancelled as shops and offices in the area shut early due to the security situation.

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Staff and customers at a Lindt cafe in Sydney, Australia, are being held hostage by a gunman.

The Lindt cafe in the city centre is surrounded by armed police. Officers have made contact with the gunman.

Five people have been seen running from the building. It is not clear how many remain inside. A black Islamic flag has been displayed at the window.

Australia’s PM Tony Abbott said it was “profoundly shocking” that people were being “held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation”.

He was speaking after chairing a meeting of the national security committee in Canberra.

Earlier Tony Abbott said: “Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society – nothing should ever change that and that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”

Senior police officers say they are on a footing “consistent with a terrorist event”.

The incident began as people were arriving for work in Martin Place on December 15. Witnesses saw a man with a bag and gun walk into the Lindt chocolate shop and cafe.

Lindt said about 10 employees and 30 customers were thought to be inside at the time. Nearby offices were evacuated and police asked people to remain indoors and away from open windows.

An enormous police operation is in place, on a scale few Sydney residents will have seen.

About six hours into the siege, three people were seen running from the building housing the cafe. Two more people followed about an hour later. It is not clear whether they escaped or were released.

New South Wales Police deputy commissioner Catherine Burn said: “Those people are now being assessed to make sure their health is okay and then police will talk to them.”

“Our approach is to resolve this peacefully. It might take a bit of time but that is our priority,” she added.

Police negotiators were in contact with the gunman, Catherine Burn confirmed. The suspect also contacted local media and reportedly issued demands.

In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said it was “deeply concerned over this serious incident”.Sydney Lindt cafe siege

An armed man wearing a backpack and a bandana could be seeing walking around inside the cafe.

TV footage showed at least three people, thought to be employees and who were visibly distressed, holding up to the window a black flag bearing the declaration of Islamic faith, which reads: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”

The flag is similar to those used by jihadist groups, but is different from the one used by Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Martin Place is home to the state premier’s office and the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest banks. The state parliament house is also only a few streets away.

Australia – which has sent fighter jets to join the US-led coalition conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq – raised its terror threat level in September.

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Australian comedian, broadcaster and disability activist Stella Young has died at the age of 32.

Stella Young’s family said that she died unexpectedly in Melbourne on December 6, ABC reported.

She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that caused her bones to break easily.

John Ajaka, NSW minister for disability services, said he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of her death.Stella Young Australia

A joint statement from opposition leader Bill Shorten and Jenny Macklin, shadow minister for families, described her as “an inspiration”.

Stella Young began campaigning for disabled people from the age of 14. She was the former editor of ABC’s disability news and opinion website, Ramp Up.

Her family issued a statement saying that she had died “unexpectedly, but in no pain”.

“With great sadness we acknowledge the passing of Stella Young, our much-loved and irreplaceable daughter and sister,” the statement said.

“A private funeral will take place soon, followed by a public event in Melbourne, with more details to come.”

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The G20 summit in Brisbane has been closed by Australia’s PM Tony Abbott who detailed economic pledges agreed by world leaders.

The leaders agreed to boost their economies by at least 2.1% by 2018, adding $2 trillion to global economies.

Much of the summit focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position on the crisis in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin faced fierce criticism and left the meeting before it ended, but said the summit was “constructive”.

He said he was leaving before the release of the official communiqué, citing the long flight to home to Russia and the need for sleep.

Australia, as host of the meeting, had sought to keep the focus on economic issues, but the issues of climate change and the conflict in Ukraine attracted significant attention.

President Barack Obama met European leaders on November 16 to discuss a co-ordinated response to what they see as Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine.

Barack Obama told reporters Vladimir Putin was “violating international law, providing heavy arms to the separatists in Ukraine” and violating the Minsk agreement.

He said the “economic isolation” of Russia would continue unless Vladimir Putin changed course.

In a television interview on November 15, Vladimir Putin called for an end to sanctions against Russia, saying they harmed the world economy as well as Russia.

The Kremlin denies sending military forces or heavy weapons to pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.

During the summit, Canadian PM Stephen Harper and British PM David Cameron also sharply criticized Vladimir Putin.

World leaders agreed to plans drawn up by finance ministers from G20 countries in February, known as the Brisbane Action Plan, to boost their collective GDP growth by at least 2%.

The statement also agreed to take strong, effective action on climate change, following pressure from the US and European leaders.

G20 leaders also released a statement in which they vowed to do all they could to “extinguish” the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

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Australia’s government has reversed a decision which would have restricted access to parliament in Canberra for women wearing full-face Islamic veils.

Earlier this month, parliament said anyone visiting the building with their face covered would have to sit in a separate area of the public gallery.

The move was widely seen as being aimed at Muslim women in burkas or niqabs, prompting discrimination accusations.

Officials said visitors would now have to show their face briefly to security.

“Once this process has taken place, visitors are free to move about the public spaces of the building, including all chamber galleries, with facial coverings in place,” the Department of Parliamentary Services said in a statement.

The plans would have affected Muslim women wearing niqabs, full-length garments where only the eyes are visible, and burkas, where no part of the face can be seen.

Stephen Parry, president of the Senate, said the initial ruling had been made because of rumors that a group of people were planning to attend prime minister’s questions on October 2 wearing veils and stage a protest in the public gallery.

Australia’s government has reversed a decision which would have restricted access to parliament in Canberra for women wearing full-face Islamic veils

Australia’s government has reversed a decision which would have restricted access to parliament in Canberra for women wearing full-face Islamic veils

He said the measure was intended to be temporary and, as it had come on the last day of the parliamentary session, had never been enforced.

PM Tony Abbott – who has previously described burkas as a “confronting” item of clothing which he wished people would not wear – had asked Speaker Bronwyn Bishop to “rethink that decision”.

The rule had come amid growing concern about the threat of terror attacks in Australia and the involvement of Australian jihadists in the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Australia has joined the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq, and domestically, police have conducted anti-terror raids in recent weeks.

However, critics said that as everyone entering parliament was subject to security checks there was no reason for people with faces covered to be considered a specific threat.

There are about half a million Muslims in Australia, making up just over 2% of the population.

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Woolworths has removed a top tank bearing a slogan seen by many as racist from supermarket shelves in Australia after it was “inadvertently” stocked.

The singlet with Australia’s flag and the slogan “If you don’t love it, leave” was on sale at two Woolworths stores in Queensland and New South Wales.

A spokesman said Woolworths would review its processes to “ensure this sort of error cannot happen again”.

Racial tensions in Australia have been high after recent terror raids.

Australia has also committed troops to the conflict in the Middle East.

The singlet bearing a slogan seen by many as racist was on sale at two Woolworths stores in Queensland and New South Wales

The singlet bearing a slogan seen by many as racist was on sale at two Woolworths stores in Queensland and New South Wales (photo Twitter)

Woolworths said the garment had been put on sale accidentally.

“It has come to our attention that two Woolworths stores were inadvertently stocking a singlet that we consider totally unacceptable,” the spokesman told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The singlet was not one we ordered. It was delivered to us in error and should never [have] been allowed on our shelves.

“The sentiment expressed on the singlet does not reflect the views of Woolworths.”

A customer posted a photo of the garment on a social media account and several dozen customers complained after the image went viral.

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Shannon Leah Fraser has been found 17 days after she got lost in the bush in northern Queensland, Australia, with no food.

Shannon Leah Fraser, 30, stumbled out of the bush on Wednesday morning, reported local media.

The woman had gone to the Golden Hole swimming spot with two men, including her partner, when she disappeared on September 21.

She is now recovering in a hospital and is being treated for infected cuts and severe sunburn.

Shannon Leah Fraser’s companions first raised the alarm after she got separated from them and failed to return to their vehicle, said Queensland Police.

The mother-of-three’s disappearance sparked a search operation involving 25 officers from the police and state emergency services.

Divers combed the pond while officers searched the area on foot and quad bikes. Helicopter searches were conducted as well, with search teams dropping colored markers.

Family members said Shannon Leah Fraser followed these markers out of the bush.

Shannon Leah Fraser has been found 17 days after she got lost in the bush in northern Queensland

Shannon Leah Fraser has been found 17 days after she got lost in the bush in northern Queensland

Police said the woman was eventually found just 30m from where she disappeared. Asked by reporters why teams did not find her, country patrol group Inspector Rhys Newton said her movements had “gone out of what we could reasonably expect a person who is lost in those circumstances”.

A banana farmer who was having his breakfast spotted her when she came out of the bush at 08:00 on October 8, and immediately sent her to a nearby hospital, said the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Family members told media that Shannon Leah Fraser had survived on creek water, small fish and insects. At one point, she sat in a creek for three days to soothe her cuts and burns.

They also said she had to fend off wild animals such as a cassowary and a freshwater crocodile.

Shannon Leah Fraser, who weighed 90kg previously, reportedly lost about 16kg during her ordeal.

Her partner, Heath Cassady, told the Courier Mail that they had been on a “bender” prior to her disappearance and had gone to Golden Hole to “chill out”.

“Her whole body is scarred and peeling, she’s been through a lot,” Heath Cassady said.

“It is amazing she’s still alive.”

Police are still investigating how she disappeared, but a spokesman told reporters on October 9 that they do not believe that there were any suspicious circumstances.

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According to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canberra is the best place in the world to live.

The Australian Capital Territory of Canberra led the regional ranking while Australia topped the overall country rankings, followed by Norway.

The OECD ranked 362 regions of its 34 member nations in its survey.

It used nine measures of wellbeing, including income, education, jobs, safety, health and environment.

Five Australian cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Perth were also in the top 10.

Other top-scoring places included the states of New Hampshire and Minnesota in the US.

Canberra came out on top as the most liveable city in the world

Canberra came out on top as the most liveable city in the world

On the other end of the scale, Mexican states constituted all 10 of the bottom regional rankings.

On a country level, Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia were ranked as the hardest places to live.

The OECD study, while not comprehensive, is one of the few to analyze the quality of life in countries.

“Recent years have seen an increasing awareness that macro economic statistics, such as GDP do not provide policy-makers with a sufficiently detailed picture of the living conditions that ordinary people experience,” the OECD said on its website.

“Developing statistics that can better reflect the wide range of factors that matter to people and their well-being (the so called “household perspective”) is of crucial importance for the credibility and accountability of public policies and for the very functioning of democracy.”

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A life-threatening tumor was removed from a goldfish’s brain in a “high-risk” operation in Australia.

George, whose owner lives in Melbourne, was put under general anaesthetic for the $200 procedure.

Dr. Tristan Rich, who carried out the operation, told Melbourne’s 3AW radio station that the fish was now “up and about and swimming around”.

Vets say the 10-year-old fish is now expected to live for another 20 years.

George was put under general anaesthetic for brain tumor removal procedure

George was put under general anaesthetic for brain tumor removal procedure

“George had a quite large tumor on the top of his head that was growing slowly, and it was beginning to affect his quality of life,” Dr. Tristan Rich from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital said.

George’s owner was given the choice between an operation or having the fish put to sleep.

He added that the fish was kept alive by pumping oxygenated pond water through its gills.

Dr. Tristan Rich described the 45-minute operation as “fiddly”.

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The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will focus on the southern part of the search area in the Indian Ocean, Australian officials say.

Officials said further refinement of satellite data found the plane may have turned south earlier than thought.

The announcement came as Australia and Malaysia signed an agreement on the search’s next phase, which will see the two countries sharing costs.

The Beijing-bound plane disappeared on March 8 with 239 people onboard.

Based on analysis of satellite data, it is believed to have ended its journey in seas far west of the Australian city of Perth.

Investigators do not know what happened to the flight and finding its “black box” flight recorders is seen as key to understanding the factors behind its disappearance.

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will focus on the southern part of the search area in the Indian Ocean

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will focus on the southern part of the search area in the Indian Ocean

Australia, which is responsible for search and rescue operations, has been looking for the plane in an area about 1,800km off its west coast.

The latest detail on the plane’s possible flight path came from an analysis of a failed attempted satellite phone call from Malaysia Airlines to the plane, said Australia’s Deputy PM Warren Truss.

“The search area remains the same, but some of the information that we now have suggests to us that areas a little further to the south… are of particular interest and priority,” he told reporters in Canberra.

A Dutch contractor, Fugro Survey, will kick off the next phase in the search in September. Three vessels towing underwater vehicles will scan for the plane.

The search will focus on an area of about 60,000 sq km and is estimated to cost about A$52 million ($49 million).

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai signed the memorandum of understanding with Warren Truss.

The two were also briefed on search efforts, together with China’s Transport Vice-Minister He Jianzhong.

Most of the passengers onboard MH370 flight were Chinese. The ministers issued a statement saying they “remain cautiously optimistic” that the plane will be found.

Australian child protection services are investigating a man accused of abandoning a baby with Down’s syndrome to a surrogate mother in Thailand to assess his suitability to have a young child in his custody.

It comes after local media reported he had served time for molesting two girls under 10 in the late 1990s.

The man and his wife took home only one baby from Thailand after the surrogate mother had twins, leaving behind son Gammy.

The case has made international headlines, causing uproar in Australia.

Besides Down’s syndrome, the six-month-old baby has a congenital heart condition and a lung infection.

Surrogate mother Pattharamon Chanbua has been looking after Gammy as well as two children of her own

Surrogate mother Pattharamon Chanbua has been looking after Gammy as well as two children of her own

Surrogate mother Pattharamon Chanbua has been looking after Gammy as well as two children of her own.

She claims his parents abandoned Gammy and had asked her to have an abortion when she was told of the child’s condition four months after becoming pregnant.

Pattharamon Chanbua, 21, has said the father met the twins, but only took care of the girl and refused to carry or look at Gammy even though the babies were side by side.

The parents have told local media in Australia that they did not know of his existence, and claimed that the allegations made by Pattharamon Chanbua are lies.

One local newspaper quoted a family friend saying the parents did know about the boy being born, apparently contradicting their version of events.

“Gammy was very sick when he was born and the biological parents were told he would not survive and he had a day, at best, to live and to say goodbye,” the friend said.

She suggested Pattharamon Chanbua had broken the surrogacy agreement by giving birth in a smaller hospital instead of an international one, which meant that the biological parents had no legal rights to the babies.

The couple had been locked in a legal battle with Pattharamon Chanbua to take home their daughter and she had insisted on keeping Gammy to give him a Thai funeral, the friend alleged.

Both the Australian government and Thai health authorities are now looking into the case and the larger issue of commercial surrogacy in Thailand, which is mostly unregulated.

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The Australian couple and the Thai surrogate mother of baby Gammy who has Down’s syndrome have given conflicting accounts of how he was left behind.

Pattharamon Chanbua, 21, was paid by the Australians to have their child. But they took home only one baby when she had twins, leaving behind Gammy.

The parents of baby Gammy have told local media that they only knew about his healthy twin sister.

However, the surrogate mother said the father visited the twins in the hospital.

Pattharamon Chanbua has claimed that she was asked by the couple to have an abortion once they knew about Gammy’s condition. But she refused as it was against her Buddhist beliefs.

She plans to keep Gammy and raise him as her own child. Besides Down’s syndrome, the six-month-old baby has a congenital heart condition and a lung infection.

Pattharamon Chanbua has claimed that she was asked by the Australian couple to have an abortion once they knew about Gammy's condition

Pattharamon Chanbua has claimed that she was asked by the Australian couple to have an abortion once they knew about Gammy’s condition (photo Reuters)

The case has made international headlines and caused an uproar particularly in Australia, where both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison have expressed regret over the situation.

The parents reportedly told Channel 9 that they had a daughter of Gammy’s age but she did not have a brother.

They said they had experienced trouble with the surrogacy agency, describing it as “traumatizing”.

The unnamed couple, who live south of Perth, also denied any knowledge of a son to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“We saw a few people at the hospital. We [didn’t] know who the surrogate was – it was very confusing. There was a language barrier,” they said.

They added that they had saved for a long time to pay for the surrogacy and it had “taken every cent we have”. They have been told that the agency now no longer exists, claims the father.

But Pattharamon Chanbua told Fairfax Media that the father, who is in his 50s, “came to the hospital to take care of the girl but never looked Gammy in the face or carried him”, even though the two babies stayed next to each other.

She also said she was now considering suing the parents.

Politicians have since weighed in, with Australian PM Tony Abbott calling it an “incredibly sad story”. He said the Australian government would look into the case.

It is illegal to pay for surrogacy in Australia, so couples have to find a surrogate who is happy to carry the child for no payment beyond medical and other reasonable expenses.

The difficulty in finding such surrogates has prompted some Australians to head overseas for commercial surrogacy arrangements.

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Surrogacy campaigners call for clearer regulation after a surrogate mother in Thailand was left with a Down’s syndrome baby when his Australian parents refused to take him.

The boy, whose twin sister was taken to Australia by the unidentified couple, needs urgent medical care.

The surrogate mother in Thailand says she will raise the boy as her own and an online campaign has raised $185,000 for his treatment.

The case has raised fears Australia could ban international surrogacy.

The baby boy, named Gammy, has a congenital heart condition and a lung infection as well as Down’s syndrome. He is currently receiving urgent treatment in a Thai hospital.

Gammy has a congenital heart condition and a lung infection as well as Down's syndrome

Gammy has a congenital heart condition and a lung infection as well as Down’s syndrome (photo ABC)

Pattaramon Chanbua was paid $15,000 to be a surrogate mother for the Australian couple.

The couple asked Pattaramon Chanbua to have an abortion after doctors informed her of the child’s condition four months after becoming pregnant. She refused, saying it was against her Buddhist beliefs.

Australian PM Tony Abbott said it was “an incredibly sad story” and illustrated “some of the pitfalls involved in this particular business”.

It is illegal to pay for surrogacy in Australia so couples have to find a surrogate who is happy to carry the child for no payment beyond medical and other reasonable expenses.

Advocacy group Surrogacy Australia said this “red tape” means many couples choose to go abroad to find a surrogate, with 400 or 500 each year venturing to India, Thailand, the US and other places.

Rachel Kunde, the group’s executive director, said she hoped the case would lead to better regulation by the Australian authorities of international surrogacy, rather than an outright ban.

“Our greatest fear is that Australia is going to ban international surrogacy altogether,” she said.

“We are hoping that the government will make accessing surrogates in Australia easier.”

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The Australian Senate has voted to repeal the carbon tax, a levy on the biggest polluters passed by the previous Labor government.

PM Tony Abbott, whose Liberal-National coalition beat Labor in an election last year, had made the repeal a central aim of his government.

Politicians have been locked in a fierce row about the tax for years.

Labor says it helps to combat climate change, but the Liberals claim it penalizes legitimate businesses.

Australia’s Senate voted 39 to 32 to repeal the tax.

The Australian Senate has voted to repeal the carbon tax

The Australian Senate has voted to repeal the carbon tax

Introduced in July 2012, it charges the 348 highest polluters A$23 ($22.60) for every tonne of greenhouse gases they produce.

Australia is the developed world’s worst polluter per head of population. But critics, including Tony Abbott, said that the tax cost jobs and forced energy prices up.

There were widespread protests against the introduction of the tax in Australia and its repeal formed a major part of Tony Abbott’s election manifesto.

He says he plans to replace it with a A$2.55 billion taxpayer-funded plan under which industries will be paid to reduce emissions and use cleaner energy.

Tony Abbott’s coalition does not hold a majority in the Senate but the repeal went through with the support of senators from mining tycoon Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party.

Labor and the Greens voted against the repeal, with Greens leader Christine Milne describing the vote as an “appalling day for Australia”.

Labor accused Tony Abbott of “taking Australia backwards while the rest of the world is moving forward”.

The Climate Institute think-tank said in a statement that the move left Australia “bereft of credible climate policy”.

Australia has promised to reduce its emissions levels by 5% on 2000 levels by 2020.

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Victims of one of the worst bushfires in Australia have won a payout of almost A$500 million ($470 million), in the country’s largest class action settlement.

Some 10,000 plaintiffs sued a power company for negligence over the fire.

The case centered on the most deadly blaze on Black Saturday, on February 7, 2009, when wildfires swept across several areas in the state of Victoria.

This fire, in the Kilmore East area north of Melbourne, killed 119 people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

The 2009 Black Saturday fires resulted in Australia's highest ever loss of life from a bushfire

The 2009 Black Saturday fires resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire

A 2009 Royal Commission found that the fire began when an electricity line failed between two poles. Contact between the live conductor and a cable stay supporting the pole caused arcing that ignited vegetation, the report said.

The plaintiffs accused SP AusNet of failing to adequately maintain its power lines.

They also sued Utility Services Corporation Ltd, the line maintenance contractor, and the Department of Sustainability and Environment for inadequate prevention measures.

The group was awarded a settlement of A$497.4 million ($467 million), of which SP AusNet will pay A$378.6 million.

The settlement represented “a measure of justice and some real compensation to help ease the financial burden of their suffering,” lawyer for the plaintiffs Andrew Watson said.

SP AusNet said the settlement came without an admission of liability by the company.

“SP AusNet’s position has been, and continues to be, that the conductor which broke and which initiated the fire was damaged by lightning, compromising its fail-safety design in a manner which was undetectable at the time,” it said in a statement.

“It is a tragedy that the conductor eventually failed on one of the worst days imaginable.”

A total of 173 people died in the Black Saturday fires.

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Australian zookeeper Trent Burton has been attacked by a crocodile during a feeding show at Shoalhaven zoo in New South Wales.

Trent Burton, 31, managed to break free after the 12ft male reptile grabbed him by the teeth and dragged him into the water.

The zookeeper was being treated for minor puncture injuries to both hands.

Zookeeper Trent Burton has been attacked by John the crocodile during a feeding show at Shoalhaven zoo in New South Wales

Zookeeper Trent Burton has been attacked by John the crocodile during a feeding show at Shoalhaven zoo in New South Wales

The crocodile, called John, and his breeding partner, Dawn, have been at Shoalhaven zoo for more than 10 years.

Shoalhaven zoo is around 100 miles south of Sydney off the coast of New South Wales.

The zoo owner Nick Schilko said Trent Burton had been handling the saltwater crocodiles for more than a decade.

“Of course we are disappointed the attack happened, but thankfully it doesn’t appear to be too serious,” he said.

Shoalhaven zoo said it would look at what happened and review its safety procedures.

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Australia has admitted it has returned 41 asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan authorities at sea, raising concerns that it violated international law.

The transfer took place on Sunday.

Rights groups had raised concerns that some 200 Sri Lankans may have been handed over, including Tamils who say they face persecution at home.

The government has not commented on other possible cases, but says everyone was subject to “enhanced screening” to ensure compliance with Australia’s international obligations.

This is the first time the Australian government has confirmed it has intercepted people at sea, screened them and returned them to their country of origin. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison acknowledge on Monday that a boat-load of 41 people had been handed back to Sri Lanka, while not commenting on the fate of a second boat reportedly carrying about 150 people.

Scott Morrison said they were transferred at sea just outside the Sri Lankan port of Batticaloa on Sunday.

Australia has admitted it has returned 41 asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan authorities at sea

Australia has admitted it has returned 41 asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan authorities at sea

“All persons intercepted and returned were subjected to an enhanced screening process,” he said.

The government says only four of those returned on Sunday were Tamils.

Scott Morrison added that only one person may have had a case for asylum but he opted to return voluntarily with the rest of the passengers.

Last week the UN refugee agency UNHCR had expressed “profound concern” about the reported situation.

“Requests for international protection should be considered within the territory of the intercepting state, consistent with fundamental refugee protection principles,” it said.

“International law prescribes that no individual can be returned involuntarily to a country in which he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution.”

Sri Lanka has been under heavy international pressure over alleged human rights violations during the final phase of the war against Tamil separatists which ended in 2009.

Rights groups say Tamils still face violence at the hands of the military.

The Australian government has been criticized for imposing what campaigners call a culture of secrecy around asylum, by refusing to comment on operations.

Under current policy, asylum seekers who arrive by boat are sent to detention camps in Papua New Guinea (PNG) or Nauru. If found to be refugees, they will be resettled there, not in Australia.

Australia says its asylum policy – which is also widely believed to involve towing boats back to Indonesian waters – is aimed at saving lives.

It is also facing tough questions over its offshore processing policy. The UN and rights groups have condemned conditions in its camps in PNG and Nauru.

Ash clouds thrown up by Indonesia’s Mount Sangeang Api volcano have forced airlines to cancel all flights to and from the northern Australian city of Darwin.

Mount Sangeang Api began erupting on Friday and plumes of ash have been sweeping south towards Australia.

Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia have all cancelled flights. Services between Australia and the province of Bali have also been hit.

The authorities say other airports could be affected in the coming days.

Hundreds of passengers have been caught up, with disruption expected to continue until at least Sunday.

Ash clouds thrown up by Indonesia’s Mount Sangeang Api volcano have forced airlines to cancel all flights to and from the northern Australian city of Darwin

Ash clouds thrown up by Indonesia’s Mount Sangeang Api volcano have forced airlines to cancel all flights to and from the northern Australian city of Darwin (photo AP)

“The volcano is undergoing a sustained, rather significant eruption at the moment,” Emile Jansons, manager of the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre told Reuters news agency.

“For the last 10 hours we’ve been observing large masses of volcanic ash being generated.

“Nobody has a very good handle on what this volcano is likely to do in the next 24 hours or beyond.”

Some flights between Perth and Bali were cancelled on Saturday.

Volcanic ash can be extremely dangerous to aircraft as the fine particles can damage engines.

The cloud is now sweeping south towards as Alice Springs, officials say.

Deputy PM Warren Truss said it could take days for Australian services to return to normal.

“Depending on wind and other weather conditions, the ash has the potential to affect flights to and from other airports, including Brisbane, during coming days,” he said.

The island of Sangeang Api has no permanent residents after they vacated following an eruption in 1988. Farmers nearby have reportedly been told to leave the area.

Indonesia lies across a series of geological fault-lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

There are about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia.

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Australia’s PM Tony Abbott has admitted he made a mistake after winking and smiling during a chat with a distressed voter.

The gaffe, which drew intense criticism, comes as Tony Abbott battles fury from some voters over his latest budget.

Many see proposals to cut health and education spending as Tony Abbott backtracking on election promises.

Hundreds have staged protests in Australian cities against the budget.

Tony Abbott appeared on ABC radio show to defend his budget proposals

Tony Abbott appeared on ABC radio show to defend his budget proposals (photo ABC)

Tony Abbott had appeared on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio show on Wednesday to defend his proposals.

A woman who identified herself as “Gloria” called in, saying she was a chronically ill 67-year-old grandmother and that she would have to pay more for medical treatment under the new budget.

Tony Abbott winks and grins when the woman says: “I work on an adult s** line to make ends meet, now that’s the only way I can do it.”

He then appears to control himself by pursing his lips, glances at the video camera filming him in the studio, then puts on a serious expression.

Clips of the incident were later circulated online and on national media, prompting criticism that Tony Abbott has lack of empathy for voters.

He told Australia’s Channel Nine on Thursday morning that it was a mistake.

“I shouldn’t have done it… I should’ve been more focused on the caller and less focused on the interviewer,” Tony Abbott said.

He was attempting to engage with the caller and was “momentarily distracted” by the radio show whom he said was “smiling at me and I winked back at him”.

“Mistakes are always regrettable… and I will do my best having made a mistake yesterday to make none today,” Tony Abbott said.

On Wednesday he told another radio station that he was reacting to “an interesting call from someone who had an interesting story”.

Meanwhile “Gloria” contacted the radio show again on Thursday and said Tony Abbott’s actions were “sleazy, slimy”.

It is not the first time Tony Abbott has been accused of insensitivity towards women.

Tony Abbott was accused of being a misogynist by former PM Julia Gillard in 2012 – a label he has strongly rejected.

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