France’s Fillon rejects new revelations

“I won’t say another word about these things,” the conservative contender said on French television, condemning “successive revelations, carefully disseminated by state services.

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The revelation comes as France gears up for the first balloting in the two-stage presidential race on April 23.

Fillon, once the race’s frontrunner and who denies any wrongdoing, was charged with abuse of public funds last month in a scandal that he has blamed on the outgoing Socialist government.

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The 63-year-old is accused of giving fake jobs to his Welsh-born wife Penelope that earned her 680,000 euros (AUD$961,000) in salary payments between 1986 and 2013.

Mediapart said late Monday that “Penelope Fillon in fact benefited from public funds from the first parliamentary mandate of her husband through contracts for studies or projects that he commissioned.”

Watch: French election campaign offically begins

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Fillon, first elected to represent the central Sarthe region in 1981, went on to become prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.

Other accusations of financial impropriety have piled up since the claims first broke in January, including that Fillon failed to declare an interest-free loan and that he accepted gifts of bespoke suits from a wealthy friend.

Fillon has seen his poll numbers decline since the scandal broke to around 17-19 points, neck-and-neck with far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and behind centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Tuesday broke with his country’s official neutrality on Tuesday by expressing a preference for Macron over Fillon, saying the conservative’s response to the scandals had “not been very encouraging”.

“Don’t put me in a difficult spot, you know who my political family is,” Schaeuble told a debate organised by the Spiegel weekly, in reference to his conservative CDU party which is affiliated in Europe with Fillon’s Republicans.

But Schaeuble added: “If I was French, if I was able to vote… I would probably vote for Macron.”

French presidential election candidates Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen, and Benoit Hamon.AAP

Why now? lawyer asks 

Fillon’s lawyer Antonin Levy confirmed that investigators seized “contracts for studies” during a raid of the candidate’s parliamentary offices in late January but said they were of “no interest” to the probe which he said reaches back only to 1997.

“The real question is why the financial prosecutor, which has known of these documents for weeks, has not spoken of them and why this information is coming out two weeks before the first round,” Levy told AFP.

Fillon was the surprise winner of the rightwing Republicans party’s November primary after campaigning on his squeaky clean image.

His two leading rivals, Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppe, were both tainted by legal woes.

Fillon has said that incumbent President Francois Hollande, who decided in December not to run for re-election, headed a “secret cabinet” responsible for the explosive fake jobs revelations.

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Green holds Storm tip session at Manly

Former Melbourne five-eighth Blake Green held a tip session with Manly teammates aimed at helping them in Saturday’s NRL clash.

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Green faces his old club for the first time since switching to the Sea Eagles after playing a pivotal role in Melbourne’s grand final appearance last year.

“I had a chat yesterday actually to a few of the members of our team after training, just to give them a heads up on what’s coming,” Green said on Wednesday.

“I’ve got a fair idea of how they’re going to play, especially on the back of a loss, they’ll be quite determined to carry the ball strong, complete their sets and kick well.”

But while the seasoned playmaker is willing to divulge as many secrets as he can from his two years at the club, he just isn’t sure how much of an advantage it will be on game day.

Melbourne went undefeated over the opening five rounds before falling short against Cronulla in a grand final re-match last week.

But they could get big names Cameron Munster and Jesse Bromwich back on deck this week.

“I think everyone in the competition is well aware of what they’re going to do and how they’re going to play, but being able to stop it is a different thing,” Green said.

“They’ve obviously got some really classy players in there, the ‘big three’ as everyone refers to. Along with Jesse Bromwich, they’re a pretty handy outfit. It’s going to be a tough job for us.”

Green also said he was shocked by former halves partner Cooper Cronk’s decision to announce his intention to leave Melbourne at the end of the year and move to Sydney.

He is adamant he couldn’t imagine the Australian halfback playing for another club, but was unsure whether he would retire, either.

“I’m not sure what he’s got planned. He could do anything. I don’t think anyone knows what he’s going to do. I don’t know if he’s made his mind up on anything,” he said.

Sean Spicer apologises for ‘insensitive’ Hitler remark

Spicer suggested Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons on his own people, momentarily forgetting the Holocaust and prompting renewed calls for his resignation.

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During a White House briefing Spicer sought to intensify criticism of Bashar al-Assad, painting the Syrian leader’s suspected use of sarin nerve agent against civilians last week as historically evil.

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said, comparing Assad unfavorably.

His comments — during the Jewish festival of Passover, prompted anti-defamation groups and Democrats to call for the already embattled press secretary’s resignation.

Watch: Sean Spicer White House Media Conference Gaffe

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Spicer later took to CNN to apologise for the comments.

“Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive comment about the Holocaust and there is no comparison,” 

“For that I apologise. It was a mistake to do that.”

Top Congressional Democrat Nancy Pelosi is calling for Spicer’s resignation.

“Sean Spicer must be fired, and the President must immediately disavow his spokesman’s statements,” said 

“Either he is speaking for the President, or the President should have known better than to hire him.”

Spicer — the most public face of the Donald Trump’s administration after the president himself — has is a frequent target of ire and satirists for his angry denunciations press coverage and sometimes loose grasp of the facts.

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He was pilloried for his first appearance in the press briefing room in January, when he browbeat journalists and falsely insisted Trump had the biggest inaugural audience ever.

He later caused an international incident by claiming British signals intelligence agency GCHQ helped former president Barack Obama spy on Trump.

Furious British spies described the claim as “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous,” forcing Spicer to explain his comments to the British ambassador.

But his latest claim brought anger from across the political spectrum and looks of astonishment from the assembled White House press corps, who offered Spicer a chance to clarify.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said, returning to the subject.

As journalists shouted “what about the Holocaust?” Spicer continued, “I think there is clearly… I understand the point, thank you, thank you I appreciate that.”

Hitler “brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But I’m saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down, to innocent — into the middle of towns, it was brought… so the use of it, I appreciate the clarification, that was not the intent.”

Steven Goldstein, head of the Anne Frank Center, described Spicer’s comments as an “evil slur” and said he now “lacks the integrity to serve.”

In a further written clarification, Spicer said he was “in no way… trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust.”

“I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable,” he said.

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis later offered a hint at what Spicer may have meant, saying that “even in World War II, chemical weapons were not used on battlefields. 

“Since World War I, there has been an international convention on this.”

Richard Price, professor of political science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and author of The Chemical Weapons Taboo told AFP Hitler  in fact came very close to using chemical weapons on civilian areas.

“Hitler used gas widely in the concentration camps, but they never used them against soldiers nor against cities,” he said.

“Albert Speer, munitions minister, said that during the trials of Nuremberg that Hitler gave the order to use them in the last months of the war, but his generals refused, because they knew the war was over, there was no point.”

Syria briefing 

Tuesday incident was not the first time this week that Spicer has found himself in rhetorical difficulty over Syria.

On Monday, he suggested that Trump could take military action if Assad were to drop more barrel bombs — a regular occurrence in Syria’s brutal war and a red line that would almost immediately be breeched, making US military action all but certain.

The White House privately walked back his comments.

Later in Tuesday’s briefing, Spicer also raised eyebrows when he declared Iran a failed state.

Trump’s pared-back approach to staffing has resulted in many of the apparatus around Spicer from being removed.

There are around half the number of National Security Council’s communications staff, whose job is — in part — to brief the press secretary on international developments.

The State Department does not have a spokesperson and has stopped holding daily briefings, which often serve as an early warning system for the White House about questions and issues headed their way.

More newsWATCH: No place for Assad in Syria, Tillerson says

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Sugar tax would benefit low income groups

A sugar tax would provide the most health benefits to low income groups without excessively punishing them in the hip pocket, Australian researchers say.

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In-depth economic analysis of a 20 per cent tax on sweetened beverages conducted at Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre found that the lowest socio-economic groups would only contribute $5 per year, or 10 cents a week, more in tax compared to wealthier groups.

Lead author Anita Lal, a PhD candidate in Deakin’s School of Health and Social Development, says the finding debunks one of the major criticisms of a proposed sugar sweetened beverage tax – that it would unfairly target poorer families.

“We estimated the increase in annual spending on sugar sweetened beverages would be an average of $30 per person, or just 60 cents per week, a reasonable cost when the health benefits are taken into account,” Ms Lal said.

While those in disadvantaged areas would pay slightly more tax, the difference was very small, Ms Lal said.

“The lowest groups would pay $35 per year and the highest groups would pay $30,” she said.

The study published in journal PLOS Medicine looked at predicted changes in consumption levels due to a change in price, then converted that to a change in population body mass index, which helped predict the reduction in the prevalence of certain diseases related to obesity.

“Things like heart disease, some types of cancers and diabetes would be reduced as a result of a reduction in BMI and these are then converted to life years saved,” Ms Lal told AAP.

The report also found a sugar tax could save $1.73 billion in healthcare costs over the lifetime of the population, and annual tax revenue was estimated at $642.9 million.

Ms Lal says a sugar tax isn’t going to solve obesity on its own but it is an important part of the solution.

“It’s about making the healthy choice, the easier and more affordable choice.”

Research supervisor Professor Anna Peeters says the equity of the tax could be even further improved if the government revenue was used to fund initiatives benefiting those with greater disadvantage.

“In Australia right now almost two in three adults are overweight or obese, and a quarter of all children,” Prof Peeters said.

She says something has to be done.

“A sugar sweetened beverage tax has been in place in Mexico for two years, and a drop in sales has been observed over the same period,” she said.

“They’ve also seen the biggest drop in consumption in their most disadvantaged groups.”

Burling excited to take Auld Mug to NZ

Peter Burling is looking forward to “a pretty cool few weeks” sharing his America’s Cup win with the rest of New Zealand after celebrating the conclusion of a gruelling campaign with his opponent Jimmy Spithill in Bermuda.

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The 26-year-old calmly steered his way into yachting history, demolishing Spithill’s Oracle Team USA to win the Auld Mug.

“It was our goal and dream to come here and win the America’s Cup and to have it sitting there and have it in the morning meeting when we all got together after a bit of recovery from last night, we’re just blown away,” Burling said.

Burling, an Olympic gold and silver medallist, was helmsman on Emirates Team New Zealand and the face of the crew during the campaign to wrest the Auld Mug from its US holders.

The celebrations following the win in the New Zealand team’s shed where they have kept their space-age 50-foot catamaran and wing sail were “pretty low key,” with the crew only realising how drained they were once the adrenaline wore off.

“We finally realised how tired we were and how most of us didn’t really have that much energy to carry on,” Burling said.

Burling said the losing US team, led by his good friend Spithill, had joined the New Zealanders in their celebration.

“They came over and said congrats last night and we invited them in. It was pretty cool to be able to share it with them.”

A beaming Burling, with the normally closely-guarded silver trophy standing behind him, said it was “impossible to compare” the victory with the gold medal he and fellow crew member Blair Tuke won in Rio de Janeiro last year in the 49er skiff class.

“To be able to lift that and bring it home to New Zealand, it’s going to be a pretty cool few weeks sharing it with all our fans and friends and family back home,” he said.

“We’re really proud of what we have managed to achieve as a group.”

No sentence for woman who loved and helped Calais migrant cross Channel

Beatrice Huret, 44, was found guilty at trial of helping Mokhtar – whom she met while volunteering at the since-demolished “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais – slip out of France under cover of night in a boat she had bought for 1,000 euros.

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Although prosecutors requested a one-year suspended sentence for illegally assisting migrants and putting them in danger, the court in the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, near Calais, ruled she should not face jail or a fine.

“We are both very relieved,” said a teary Huret, who phoned her lover immediately with the news.

Arriving at the courthouse earlier, she said she took “full responsibility” for her actions.

“I am prepared to give up my life for him,” the widowed mother of a 19-year-old son said.

Prosecutor Camille Gourlin argued that Huret and a French immigration activist also on trial had put the lives of Mokhtar and two other Iranian men in danger by helping them take a boat across the Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

They were rescued by the British coastguard as their boat began to take in water.

“Solidarity is laudable but not at any price and not in any conditions,” the prosecutor said.

“In 2016, more than 5,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean in boats… We don’t want to be collecting corpses from the beaches of Pas-de-Calais,” she said, referring to the northern region.

Activist Laurent C, who was also found guilty but spared punishment, said he would continue to help migrants living rough on the streets of the northern French port.

‘Love at first sight’

A total of four people were tried for their role in helping migrants fleeing war, persecution or poverty in the Middle East or Africa reach Britain.

An Iranian migrant found in possession of 16,000 pounds ($20,370, 18,200 euros) in cash from alleged smuggling operations was sentenced to three years imprisonment, 16 months of which were suspended.

A French mother of four who lived opposite the Jungle camp received a six-month suspended sentence for ferrying migrants around by car.

Huret’s life was transformed in February 2015 when she gave a lift to a young Sudanese migrant travelling to the makeshift Calais Jungle camp, where thousands of people hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain were living in tents and shacks.

“It was a shock to see all these people wading around in the mud,” said Huret, whose husband – a border police officer – died of cancer in 2010.

She began volunteering at the camp and a year later met 37-year-old Mokhtar, who was among a group of Iranians who sewed their mouths shut in protest over the demolition of part of the camp in March 2016.

“It was love at first sight,” Huret told AFP in an interview this month.

After a failed bid by Mokhtar to hide in the back of a lorry, she helped him acquire a small boat and towed it to a beach from where he and two other Iranians crossed to England on June 11, 2016.

RELATEDCalais Mon Amour

Mokhtar, who is now living in the northern English city of Sheffield, has since received asylum. Huret visits him frequently.

She has written a book about their romance, “Calais Mon Amour”, for which several film-makers are vying to acquire the rights.

Since demolishing the Jungle camp in October French authorities have taken a stern line on assistance to migrants, accusing activists who provide assistance to homeless foreigners of creating a “pull” effect.

Huret is one of several people to appear in court in recent months charged with illegally assisting migrants from Africa and the Middle East who cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats or stow away in trucks travelling overland.

A 37-year-old olive farmer in southern France was recently fined 3,000 euros ($3,300) for helping African migrants cross into France from Italy and giving them

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Google slugged for abusing its dominance

Google has been fined a record 2.

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42 billion euros (A$3.5 billion) for abusing its dominance of the online search market in a case that could be just the opening salvo by European regulators in an attempt to curb the tech company’s clout.

The decision by the European Commission on Tuesday punishes Google for unfairly favouring its own online shopping recommendations in its search results.

The commission is also conducting at least two other probes into the company’s business practices that could force Google to make even more changes in the way it bundles services on mobile devices and sells digital advertising.

The crackdown is unlikely to affect Google’s products in the US or elsewhere but it could provide an opportunity to contrast how consumers fare when the company operates under constraints compared with an unfettered Google.

The fine immediately triggered debate about whether European regulators were taking prudent steps to preserve competition or overstepping their bounds to save companies being shunned by consumers who have overwhelmingly embraced an alternative.

Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top antitrust regulator, said her agency’s nearly seven-year investigation left no doubt something had to be done to rein in Google.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation,” Vestager told reporters on Tuesday.

The fine was the highest ever imposed in Europe for anti-competitive behaviour, exceeding a 1.06 billion euros penalty on Silicon Valley chip maker Intel in 2009.

The penalty itself is unlikely to leave a dent in Google’s finances.

Parent company Alphabet Inc. has more than $US92 billion in cash, including nearly $US56 billion in accounts outside of the US.

Google’s misbehaviour in Europe boiled down to its practice of highlighting its own online shopping service above those of its rivals. Merchants pay Google for the right to show summaries of their products in small boxes displayed near the top of search results when someone seems to be interested in a purchase.

Meanwhile, Google lists search results of its biggest rivals in online shopping on page 4 – and smaller rivals even lower, based on the calculations of European regulators. That’s a huge advantage for Google when 90 per cent of user clicks are on the first page.

Google says consumers like its shopping thumbnails because they are concise and convenient.

The commission’s decision “underestimates the value of those kinds of fast and easy connections,” Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, wrote in a blog post.

How cyber attacks have grown in scale over the past 10 years

Tuesday’s wave of cyber attacks, which hit a clutch of multinationals, came just six weeks after what the EU’s law enforcement agency described as an “unprecedented” attack by WannaCry Ransomware.

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Cyberwar

The Baltic nation of Estonia was the first state hit by a massive cyberattack in 2007, which paralysed key corporate and government web services for days.

Estonia blamed Moscow, with which is was mired in a diplomatic conflict, but Moscow denied the charge.

A year later, Georgia suffered similar attacks, also during a conflict with Russia.

In July 2009, the White House, Pentagon and State Department websites were targeted in a coordinated cyberattack which also struck sites in South Korea.

In November 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment became the target of a major cyber attack, linked to its North Korea satire “The Interview”.

Washington blamed Pyongyang for the hacking, a claim it denied — though it had strongly condemned the film, which features a fictional CIA plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un.

In May Qatar said its official agency QNA had been the victim of an unprecedented cyber attack, with the publication of comments falsely attributed to its Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

The reported comments provoked a serious diplomatic crisis with three of its Gulf neighbours and Egypt.

Qatar has accused neighbouring countries of being behind the attack. The FBI is helping in the probe.

Cyberterrorism and cybercriminality 

In January 2015, a group declaring support for Islamic State jihadists hacked into the social media accounts of US Central Command (CENTCOM), an embarrassing setback for Washington in its war against IS in Syria and Iraq.

Two months later, a group calling itself the “Islamic State Hacking Division” published what they said were the names and addresses of 100 military personnel and urged supporters to kill them.

Major companies and media houses have also been targeted, including Yahoo!, which was targeted by hackers seeking personal data on millions of users in both 2013 and 2014.

Hacktivism

The loose-knit piracy collective Anonymous, arguably the most well-known hacking group, has targeted a number of organisations under its mantle of fighting injustices, including the Pentagon, the Church of Scientology, the IS group and Mastercard.

Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, founded 10 years ago by Australian Julian Assange, specialises in the release of classified materials.

In 2010, it published 251,000 classified cables from US embassies around the world and thousands of military documents on Afghanistan.

Last year it published files and communications from the Democratic Party, damaging presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. US intelligence officials said the release was part of a Russian plot to aid the eventual election victor Donald Trump.

A similar election attack targeted the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron barely 24 hours before the final round of voting in May, when thousands of documents from his En Marche! (On the Move!) movement were dumped online.

Ransomware – the Wannacry precedent

In May 2017 a huge range of organisations and companies around the world were affected by an cyber attack on an unprecedented scale.

The attacks spread rapidly around the globe using a security flaw in Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, an older version that is no longer given mainstream tech support by the US giant.

The attacks were launched via WannaCry, a type of malware called ransomware that encrypts files on an infected computer and demands money via virtual currency bitcoin to unlock them.

It affected 300,000 computers in 150 countries, and among its victims were Britain’s National Health Service, a factory belonging to French carmaker Renault and Spanish phone operator Telefonica.

John Longmire gives backing to AFL rookies

Sydney coach John Longmire is convinced his youthful AFL team doesn’t suffer from a lack of experience, but admits the winless Swans need to get going quickly.

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Languishing in 16th place and sitting on 0-3 for the first time in 18 years, Sydney’s next two games are against competition heavyweights West Coast in Perth on Thursday and Greater Western Sydney at the SCG the following week.

“It’s a lot of little things that add up to one big thing which is not a consistent performance,” Longmire said on Tuesday.

“We’ve been in front in the last two games in the last quarter and haven’t been able to get over the line and we haven’t been consistent in any part of our game over the four quarters.”

Longmire wasn’t wasting time on worrying about whether Sydney’s poor start would jeopardise their prospects of a top four finish.

“That’s not as important as this Thursday and that’s all we can focus on,” he said.

Sydney fielded nine players with no more than 15 games experience against Collingwood last week, while omitting the more experienced Jeremy Laidler and Harry Cunningham.

Longmire emphasised form counted more than experience in selection matters and was adamant the Swans had the right team balance.

“Whilst we’ve exposed a lot of young players over the first three weeks of the season, we still feel as though we’ve got enough senior players in our team to be able get it right, to be competitive,” Longmire said.

“We’re very much looking at the players that are playing well at the moment.

“A lot of those young players have been playing well, so they have earned their spots in the team.”

Longmire wasn’t concerned about the six-day turnaround for his side, pointing out West Coast had one day less and had also had to travel across the country.

Origin Energy secures more SA solar power

Origin Energy has formalised an offtake agreement with the Bungala solar plant in South Australia as it looks to boost capacity in the blackout-hit state.

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The energy producer and retailer in February signed a conditional power purchase agreement with Reach Solar to buy electricity from the project.

It has now reaffirmed its agreement to buy the entire 220 megawatts generated from the solar plant, after the project achieved financial closure.

The solar farm 10 kilometres north east of Port Augusta, is being developed by Tony Concannon, the former head of GDF Suez Australia, which operated the Hazelwood coal fired power plant in Victoria.

The deal is Origin’s largest ever solar power offtake agreement and takes to 550 MW the new renewable energy capacity it has contracted over the last year.

“By putting in place a long-term contract to purchase all of the solar power Bungala produces, we have played an important role in helping it reach financial close,” Origin chief executive Frank Calabria said.

Bungala’s development will mean more jobs in Port Augusta and will also contribute to improved energy security in South Australia, as solar is a more predictable form of renewable energy than wind, Mr Calabria said.

The company has set a target of signing up new renewables capacity of up to 1500 MW by 2020, to almost entirely replace the recently retired Hazelwood plant’s capacity.

Hazelwood, considered Australia’s most polluting power plant, was shut down last month after 52 years, as operator Engie said it was uneconomical to operate.

The loss of capacity has, in part, led to power outages and soaring electricity prices in South Australia, which relies on renewable energy for more than a third of its total power needs.

A blackout in September 2016 has been estimated to cost the state about $450 million.

Origin signed two separate agreements in March with Engie to buy power from the gas-based Pelican Point power station in Adelaide for three years, allowing the plant to return to full capacity.

The energy retailer has simultaneously targeted renewables capacity, with the sector’s contribution expected to jump to 30 per cent of its total energy mix by 2020, from 12 per cent now.

Origin expects to start receiving power from the first 110 MW stage of the Bungala solar farm by December 2017, while the entire 220 MW is expected to be operational by August 2018.

Academic accuses Australia of ‘war crimes’ in Syria

The federal education minister has branded a Sydney academic, who believes the US missile strike in Syria is a “false flag” attack, as an apologist for “grievous” crimes against civilians.

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But the University of Sydney academic himself has hit back, saying the Turnbull government is guilty of war crimes in Syria last year over a botched coalition bombing raid.

Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer at the university’s political economy department, believes there is no credible evidence Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has ever used chemical weapons against his people.

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He blamed rebels for the recent gas attack in Idlib province which killed scores, including children.

He felt “sad” there would be more false flag attacks and said he believed most of the Idlib victims were “hostages” killed by chemical weapons.

“No motive, no evidence,” Dr Anderson told AAP on Tuesday.

Dr Anderson, who’s written a book blaming “western-backed jihadists” for massacres in Syria, also described Mr Assad as “well-spoken, polite and diplomatic” having met him in person.

But Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the university should examine whether the academic has breached any rules.

“Although universities are places where ideas should be contested, that’s no excuse for being an apologist for grievous crimes against innocent civilians,” he told AAP in a statement.

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“I trust the university will take a close look whether those comments and any course content breach their code of conduct and academic standards.”

Dr Anderson pointed to an operation last year when RAAF aircraft were involved in air strikes on what was believed to be an IS fighting position in eastern Syria, killing dozens of Syrian military personnel.

“Australia has committed major war crimes against Syria,” he said.

“Imagine if the Syrian army killed 80 Australian soldiers.”

The university said, while it did not endorse the statements expressed by Dr Anderson, it remained committed to the expression of free speech.

“Academic staff are free to contribute to public comment in their area of expertise under terms outlined in the University’s Public Comment policy,” a spokeswoman told AAP.

“This means tolerance of a wide range of views, even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has reiterated his support for the recent US missile strikes, describing it as swift, just and calibrated – and the chemical attack as a shocking war crime.

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Who is France’s surging far-left candidate Melenchon?

Who is he?

He’s a 65-year-old veteran politician who quit the Socialist party after 30 years in 2008 and is now head of his own movement “La France Insoumise” (Unbowed France).

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Long known for being aggressive and acid-tongued, he has toned down his rhetoric for this campaign but is still able to deliver a zinger or a witty putdown when required.

“I’m becoming a reassuring figure,” the divorced father-of-one told the Journal du Dimanche on April 2. “I’m less of a hothead.”

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After refusing an alliance with Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, he appears now to have eclipsed him as the main voice on the left.

“He invented political stand-up. He’s become a showman,” according to a former colleague in the Socialist party Julien Dray.

Melenchon ran for president in 2012 and won 11.1 percent of the vote, lower than polls had forecast.

Watch: France election candidates go head-to-head in TV debate

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Why so popular?

His climb appears linked to strong performances in two televised debates on March 20 and last Tuesday during which he delivered some memorable soundbites, particularly when clashing with far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

“Leave us alone with your religion!” he shouted at her last week at one point.

In an election marked by high levels of anger and people wanting to kick out the established political class, he has emerged as a charismatic alternative to Le Pen and the other “outsider”, pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron.

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From the beginning of the campaign, he has also built up a loyal core of supporters on Twitter and via his own YouTube channel — a way for him to circumvent the traditional media, which he accuses of being biased.

In a sign of nervousness, Macron supporters spread an online video over the weekend highlighting Melenchon’s tax plans while party secretary general Richard Ferrand urged voters to delve into his radical programme.

How leftwing is he?

He’s backed by the French Communist Party, is an admirer of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and has a huge tax-and-spend economic programme.

He wants to reduce France’s working week to 32 hours from its current 35 hours and lower the retirement age back to 60.

He proposes increases in the minimum wage and social security payments paid for in part by greater taxation of the rich. Any earnings beyond 33,000 euros a month would be taxed at 100 percent.

He wants to quit nuclear power, which produces around 75 percent of France’s electricity, and renationalise the partly-privatised national power group EDF.

Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon has compared German Chancellor Angela Merkel to war-mongering Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.AAP

In foreign affairs, he wants to pull France out of the market-friendly European Union as well as the Western military alliance NATO, and he has supported Russia’s military action in Syria and Ukraine.

He has also compared German Chancellor Angela Merkel, current President Francois Hollande’s closest ally, to war-mongering Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.

“I’m the candidate for peace,” he said on Sunday with an olive branch in his jacket pocket.

One of his signature domestic proposals is constitutional reform. He wants to scrap the existing powerful executive presidency and return France to a parliamentary system.

He wants to legalise cannabis and welcomes immigration.

“Today as yesterday, I am delighted that France is a mix of races and all the children are our children,” he said on Sunday.

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Oroton founder’s grandson replaces CEO

The grandson of Oroton founder Boyd Lane has been handed the reins of the struggling handbag retailer after the immediate resignation of chief executive Mark Newman.

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Mr Newman’s four years as OrotonGroup CEO came to an end just weeks after the retailer reported a steep fall in half year sales and profit.

Board member Ross Lane, a former managing director and chairman of the company who owns a 21.85 per stake in Oroton with his father and siblings, will serve as interim CEO.

The retailer’s net profit plunged 52 per cent to $1.8 million in the six months to January 28, as like-for-like sales dropped 11 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

Oroton blamed weaker sales on its shift away from women’s apparel, shoes and lingerie, lower sales at its factory outlets and a decline in sales at its seven GAP stores.

Chairman John Schmoll offered no explanation for Mr Newman’s sudden departure, but thanked him for his loyal service and for leading the group during the early stages of its transformation.

He said Mr Lane has an intimate knowledge of the business and its current initiatives, which include a shift towards targeting younger women that will result in the company ending its relationship with actress Rose Byrne and building its use of young, social media-savvy “influencers”.

“This knowledge together with Ross’s broad retail experience from active participation in the successful growth of a number of other retail businesses means Ross is ideally qualified to lead the company during this important period of transition,” Mr Schmoll said.

Mr Lane’s base salary will be $610,000 a year, including superannuation, and a short term incentive of 50 per cent of his base salary.

Mr Newman joined Oroton in 2010, initially as vice president of Ralph Lauren Australia and New Zealand, when Oroton had a partnership with the luxury clothing label before being appointed chief executive in August 2013.

Oroton shares were up one cent at $1.62 nearing the close of trade, after hitting a 10-year low of $1.45 in February.