Plea from Syrian refugee at Oscars

A Syrian refugee whose story of escape from the war-torn Middle East country to sanctuary in Germany is nominated for an Oscar.

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Hala Kamil, the star of Watani: My Homeland, is expected to be at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, where she will walk the red carpet with the likes of Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.

Earlier this month there was doubt over whether she would be able to attend the ceremony, with fears she may fall victim of Donald Trump’s travel ban.

But after a judge blocked the president’s moratorium she was able to travel to the US, and now Kamil hopes to bring her message of peace to audiences around the globe.

Hollywood has even rallied to find her a gown to wear at the awards.

Others, however, have fallen victim of American immigration authorities.

Khaled Khateeb, a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the Oscar-nominated documentary The White Helmets, was barred from travelling to Los Angeles after officials found “derogatory information” on him.

Amid increasing indignation at President Trump’s policies, the directors of all five films in the Best Foreign Language Film category issued an extraordinary broadside in a joint statement condemning the “climate of fanaticism and nationalism” in the US.

They have decided to dedicate their category’s award – irrespective of who wins – to “the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity”.

Watani: My Homeland, nominated in the short documentary category, was produced by ITN Productions and German film-maker Marcel Mettelsiefen.

Filmed between 2013 and 2016, it tells the story of Kamil, her husband Abu Ali and their four children as they lived on the front line of war-torn Aleppo.

After Abu Ali was captured by so-called Islamic State – he is thought to have been killed – the family were forced to flee Syria to begin a new life in Germany.

No point in dwelling on poor NZ performance – Hesson

Hesson’s team were comprehensively outplayed by South Africa in the third one-day international at Wellington Regional Stadium on Saturday as they were bundled out for 112 and lost the match by 159 runs.

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The victory gave the Proteas a 2-1 lead in the five-match series and Hesson’s side face a must-win game in Hamilton on Saturday.

“We have to move on pretty quick. We can’t let a performance like that affect how we prepare for the next one,” Hesson told reporters on Sunday. “South Africa … were excellent. They challenged us and we didn’t respond.”

Hesson at least has the services of Martin Guptill at Seddon Park after the opening batsman missed the first three games with a hamstring injury.

Guptill’s return creates something of a selection conundrum for Hesson, with Tom Latham likely to relinquish the gloves to specialist wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi for the rest of the series.

Even though he has proved more than capable behind the stumps, Latham has scores of 0, 2, 0, 0, 7 and 4 in his past six ODIs and Guptill is likely to open with Dean Brownlie in Hamilton.

“There’s no doubt Tom has struggled the last little while,” Hesson said. “He’s come off a great series in India where he was our best player and he hasn’t quite reached those heights yet.”

Hesson also brought back off-spinner Jeetan Patel with the pitch likely to offer turn in Hamilton while pace bowler Matt Henry has been released to play a first-class match with an eye to the test series that starts in Dunedin on March 8.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ed Osmond)

Scotland end 10-year Wales hoodoo with 29-13 victory

After an early exchange of penalties Wales winger Liam Williams crossed in the corner for an eye-catching opening try as the visitors opened up a 13-9 halftime lead.

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Scotland wingers Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser finished tries set up by sublime Hogg passes after the break while Russell kicked 19 points with a perfect seven-from-seven record with the boot.

Victory was Scotland’s first against Wales since 2007 – ending a run of nine successive defeats – as they scored 23 unanswered points to register their second victory in three matches in this year’s Championship.

“We knew how tough Wales were going to be,” man-of-the-match Russell told the BBC.

“We knew if we were in the game, we’re good enough to get a couple of tries. We dug deep. Credit to the boys. We kept the scoreboard ticking over and at this level that’s what you need to keep doing. I was happy with my kicking today.”

After an even opening, where both sides showed early attacking intent, Wales scored the first try with the in-form Williams finishing in the corner after a slick backline move sparked by Rhys Webb’s quick tap.

Webb caused Scotland a number of problems with a series of incisive breaks around the ruck — one of which nearly brought about a second try but the television officials spotted minor obstruction in the build-up.

Russell cut the gap to four with a penalty before the metronomic Leigh Halfpenny restored the visitors’ seven-point advantage in the 34th minute.

Scotland nearly restored parity with a superb try sparked by mesmerising fullback Hogg’s deft kick through, but center Huw Jones was hauled down metres short before a third Russell penalty made it 13-9 to Wales at the break.

The hosts showed great impetus after the break with winger Seymour scoring a converted try in the corner following sublime link-up play between Hogg and Visser.

Webb might have scored a thoroughly deserved try midway through the half but his foot brushed the line just as he dived over in the corner, but the visitors were hindered by a series of handling errors in attacking positions.

Visser then strolled over in the opposite corner after he was put into space by Hogg’s brilliant quick pass, with two further Russell kicks sealing an emphatic victory.

(Reporting By Tom Hayward,; Editing by Neville Dalton)

Smith wants more subcontinent improvement

Australia appear to have finally learned their lessons of a nine-Test losing streak in Asia, but Steve Smith wants bigger and better things in Bangalore.

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From the moment Smith won the toss in Pune, the tourists never relinquished the upper hand in their first Test against India.

It was one of many facets of the polished performance that were in sharp contrast to the 3-0 series loss in Sri Lanka last year.

Smith’s side toiled for runs on the remarkably dry deck, which required just three days to deliver 40 wickets and a 1-0 lead for Australia in the four-Test series.

They adapted to local conditions with bat and ball, as has been Smith and coach Darren Lehmann’s repetitive request in recent years.

And they fielded well, especially Peter Handscomb who plucked two one-handed pearlers amid India’s chaotic collapse of 7-11 on Friday.

Smith hopes it is the start of something special. Australia will step up their pursuit of a series win on Saturday, when the second Test starts in Bangalore.

“We kept the foot on the throat. We got ourselves into positions to win in Sri Lanka and we let the opposition get back into the game,” Smith said.

“In this Test we didn’t let India back into the game … it’s pleasing we’re learning, trying to improve in different ways.”

However, Smith feels there is room for improvement.

“I wouldn’t say it was perfect,” Smith said.

“We did a lot of things right in this Test match, that’s for sure but there’s still areas we can improve on.

“In the first innings we probably lost a few (wickets) in clumps.

“For us, it’s about continuing to identify those periods in the game when we need to knuckle down and get through and show some fight and resilience and come out the other end of it.

“We know as batters the longer you’re out in the middle, the easier things get.”

Smith was well aware of Australia’s horrible streak in India prior to the 333-run win.

“We haven’t won a game here for 4502 days,” Smith said.

“The pressure was off us. Everyone wrote us off and expected India to win 4-0. That can’t happen any more.

“Sometimes you can think negatively about the situation … for us it was putting that out of our mind.”

The shock win came a tick over three months after Australia capitulated in Hobart, where they were bowled out for 85 en route to a fifth straight Test loss.

AUSTRALIA’S NINE STRAIGHT LOSSES IN ASIA PRIOR TO BEATING INDIA: *3-0 loss to Sri Lanka in 2016 (106 runs, 229 runs, 163 runs) *2-0 loss to Pakistan in 2014 (221 runs, 356 runs) *4-0 loss to India in 2013 (8 wickets, inns and 135 runs, 6 wickets, 6 wickets).

Hogg and Russell epitomise dynamic, emerging Scotland side

Russell kicked seven goals from seven attempts and Hogg was at the heart of everything Scotland did well with numerous classy attacking touches in a 29-13 victory in Edinburgh watched by British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland.

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The dynamic Hogg is surely now the leading contender to play fullback against New Zealand this year and followed up three tries in the opening two games with a performance full of vim and vigour, frightening the Welsh defence with searing pace and sublime handling.

Russell, meanwhile, is quickly becoming one of the best attacking flyhalfs in the Northern hemisphere but has added a calming influence to his game highlighted by his perfect record with the boot in a mature performance.

“The boys were awesome today,” Russell told the BBC. “It was always going to be a tough game, especially with both teams coming off a loss. I’m so proud of the boys.

“We knew if we were in the game at half-time then we would be good enough and we dug deep.

“I’ve got Greig’s (Laidlaw) boots on and I was happy to keep the scoreboard ticking over with my kicking today.”

Scotland have had poor representation in recent Lion’s squads but have a number of in-form players making strong cases for inclusion against the All Blacks.

Brothers Jonny and Richie Gray headline a maturing, dynamic forward pack, injured captain Greig Laidlaw is a huge influence and centre Huw Jones has had an eye-catching start to his test rugby career. Wingers Tim Visser, Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland are accomplished finishers.

Visser and Seymour scored the tries against Wales but it was the inventive, electrifying duo of Hogg and Russell, never far from each other, who stole the show.

Scotland remain in contention for the Championship and captain John Barclay said his side were oozing confidence ahead of their visit to Twickenham to face champions England.

Wales interim head coach Rob Howley, however, conceded the Championship was out of reach for his error-riddled side.

“Losing today, our Championship is over but it’s about pride in the next two games,” he told the BBC. “Scotland were better than us and deserved the win.”

(Reporting By Tom Hayward, editing by Ed Osmond)

Worst films of 2016 named in Razzie awards

Even the Razzie Awards are getting political.

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A documentary criticising US Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton has tied with superhero ensemble Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on a list of the year’s worst achievements in film, winning four Razzies apiece.

The annual tongue-in-cheek Razzie awards, which serve as an antidote to Hollywood’s Oscars ceremony, named Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party as the worst film of 2016.

D’Souza, a conservative commentator and best-selling author, was named worst actor for narrating his documentary and worst director alongside Bruce Schooley. Worst actress went to the person who portrayed Clinton in the film.

Hillary’s America took in a modest $US13 million ($A17 million) at the North American box office last year.

The Razzies, or Golden Raspberry awards, follow a Hollywood awards season marked by outspoken speeches and protests against the policies and behaviour of US President Donald Trump. The season culminates with Sunday’s Oscars ceremony.

Batman v Superman also won four Razzies, including worst screen combo for Ben Affleck & His BFF (Baddest Foe Forever) Henry Cavill and worst “remake, rip-off or sequel.”

The annual Razzie Redeemer Award went to veteran actor-director Mel Gibson. Gibson has been welcomed back into the folds of Hollywood with his war drama Hacksaw Ridge a decade after a drunken anti-Semitic rant made him an outcast.

Hacksaw Ridge is nominated for six Oscars on Sunday, including Gibson for director.

Winners of the year’s worst films are given a gold, spray-painted trophy.

The winners are voted for online by around 1000 Razzie members from 24 countries, who sign up online and pay a $US40 membership fee.

Ireland overpower France to top Six Nations standings

Ireland, who last year beat all three southern hemisphere giants but suffered a surprise defeat in Scotland in their opening game of the championship, went ahead after 29 minutes through a converted try from scrum half Conor Murray.

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Flyhalf Johnny Sexton, returning to the side after a spate of injuries, gave Ireland a 10-point lead with two penalties and a drop goal early in the second half.

The loss left France, on five points, in the bottom half of the table where they have finished every Six Nations championship for the past five years.

Ireland top of the standings with 10 points but England, on eight, will move ahead if they secure their third win from three against bottom-placed Italy on Sunday.

Scotland, who beat Wales 29-13 earlier on Saturday, are in second place on nine points.

“They are a really good side and we were really happy to grind out that win,” Ireland captain Rory Best told reporters.

“The two sides were under pressure and we were very happy to come out on top.”

France punished a scrappy opening from Ireland with two penalties from flyhalf Camille Lopez in the first 20 minutes. Centre Remi Lamerat briefly silenced the crowd before his try was disallowed due to a knock-on.

But momentum swung back to Ireland after 29 minutes when Murray pounced over the line from a well-worked scrum and Sexton converted.

Sexton, seeking to bolster his case for a second British and Irish Lions tour this year, sent the crowd into raptures with long-range drop goal after 49 minutes, with national radio station Newstalk tweeting “He’s Baaaack!!”

Ireland held off intense pressure from the French in the last 20 minutes before conceding three points to a Lopez penalty in the 73rd minute. Sexton’s replacement Paddy Jackson then restored the lead to 10 points four minutes from time.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said Wales were unlucky to lose the earlier match against Scotland and he believes his team’s next game in Cardiff in two weeks will be a really tough one.

“We’ve now doubt that they will be disappointed with that and will be very determined when we get to Cardiff in 13 days time,” he said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

NSW RSL council stands down amid expenses scandal

The RSL’s NSW council has agreed to stand aside amid an ongoing expenses scandal.

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The decision comes a month after nine state council members were charged by the RSL’s national body over an alleged cover-up of a misuse of funds.

A spokeswoman confirmed to AAP on Saturday that NSW council members had stepped aside but she had no further comment.

The RSL’s national body alleged in its charge sheet last month that the state council brought the organisation into disrepute with its lack of transparency following former NSW president Don Rowe’s “careless” spending.

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Mr Rowe was pushed to resign in 2014 when concerns were raised about his expense claims but the RSL membership was told he left due to ill health, the charge sheet said.

Mr Rowe incurred $475,000 on his RSL credit card between January 2009 and December 2014, with about $38,000 going towards his phone bills, an auditor’s report last year said.

The KordaMentha report also found Mr Rowe and former national president Rod White were among several other RSL directors who received more than $2.5 million in consultancy fees from an aged care charity within the league.

NSW Minister for Veterans Affairs David Elliott has referred Mr Rowe to police.

Several RSL NSW council members had already stood aside before this week, including Peter Stephenson, who said in a January statement his temporary resignation was not an admission of culpability.

“It is my intention to defend the actions of state council based on legal advice at the time,” Mr Stephenson said.

State RSL president John Haines has been contacted for comment.

Talking points of Aussies’ win in Pune

SIX KEY QUESTIONS AFTER AUSTRALIA’S SHOCK WIN OVER INDIA

1) How significant was it? Steve Smith regarded it was one of the greatest wins in his career, also calling his century one of his best.

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It is a fair point given the historical context but also how his side dominated a contest that most pundits gave them zero hope of even competing in. Australia had lost their past nine Tests in Asia but somehow made India, who had been undefeated at home since 2012, look like the touring team on a dry deck in Pune.

2) What happens now? Australia have struck a major blow in their bid to complete the nation’s second Test series win in India since rolling the hosts in 1969. Their batsmen will spend the next week trying to address various issues that cropped up. Their bowlers will study Smith’s impressive ton and also Mitchell Starc’s clean striking. The curator in Bangalore, where the second Test starts on Saturday, will feel the heat as much as anyone.

3) What happened with the pitch in Pune and what will happen in Bangalore? Smith suggested the dry deck in Pune played into Australia’s hands, increasing the importance of the toss and making Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe even more potent. O’Keefe grabbed a haul of 12-70, the best ever match figures by a visiting spinner in India. Bangalore has a reputation for being more batting friendly and it wouldn’t surprise if administrators want to ensure the next next game goes beyond a third day.

4) What is Australia’s record like in Bangalore?

Very good. They’ve played five Tests at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium and only lost one of them. The venue hosted Michael Clarke’s memorable debut in 2004, when he scored a ton to put Australia on track for an upset 2-1 series win. The ground also holds good memories for current coach Darren Lehmann, who was part of the XI that shocked India 13 years ago.

5) Who won the first round between skippers Steve Smith and Virat Kohli?

Even the most corrupt judge couldn’t find a way to award it to Kohli. Smith showed more grit than his counterpart, who recorded his first ever Test duck at home then scored 13. It was the gifted batsman’s lowest run tally in a home Test. Kohli chased and edged a wide ball from Starc in the first innings then shouldered arms to a straight ball from Steve O’Keefe that hit the middle of off stump. Kohli was also criticised for his poor use of the Decision Review System.

6) Will Australia make any changes for the second Test?

Barring injury, almost certainly not. Selectors strongly considered playing a third spinner as part of a last-minute change to their original plan for Pune, but wisely opted against it. It’s hard to see tweakers Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson playing on the tour – even if any of remaining three games are played on a similar pitch. Mitch Marsh didn’t bowl but his second-innings knock of 31 and 56-run partnership with Smith was crucial. Shaun Marsh failed to fire but it would be a great surprise if he is dumped in favour of Usman Khawaja.

Kim killing suspect paid $120 to take part in ‘TV prank’: reports

Almost two weeks after the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was killed with a lethal nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysian teams in hazmat suits sealed off the scene of the assassination early Sunday to sweep the site for toxins.

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Two women are seen shoving something into Kim’s face in leaked CCTV footage from the airport. He later suffered a seizure and was dead before he reached hospital.

Malaysia revealed Friday the 45-year-old was assassinated with a lethal nerve agent manufactured for chemical warfare and listed by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction.

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Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who was arrested soon after the assassination on February 13, said she believed she was handling a liquid like “baby oil”, the country’s deputy ambassador to Malaysia Andreano Erwin said according to reports.  

Siti, 25, “only said in general that somebody asked her to do this activity”, according to Erwin, who was granted access to Siti in Kuala Lumpur Saturday.

Another female suspect, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, is also in custody over the murder, but Erwin said Siti had told Indonesian consular staff she did not know her.

WATCH: VX nerve agent found on Kim Jong-nam face

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Huong told Vietnam’s foreign ministry that she believed she had been tricked into killing Kim and thought she was taking part in a prank for a comedy video.

“During contact with embassy staff, Huong said she… had thought she was playing a role in a humorous video clip,” a statement from Vietnam’s foreign ministry said.

Huong gained notoriety after Malaysian police shared CCTV images of her wearing a top emblazoned with “LOL” shortly after the killing. 

Malaysian police have said one of the women arrested after the attack fell ill in custody, adding she had been vomiting.

However, Erwin said Siti was physically healthy while Vietnam said Huong was “in stable health”.

Related reading’Blatant violation’ 

The news Friday that lethal VX nerve agent was used in the attack brought condemnation from South Korea, which has pointed the finger at the North over Kim’s death.

Seoul slammed the use of the toxin as a “blatant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and other international norms”. 

The fallout from the attack continued after US media reported unofficial talks in New York between North Korean and former American officials had been cancelled.

Malaysian teams equipped with gas masks and specialised detection machinery descended on Kuala Lumpur airport’s terminal two early Sunday, accompanied by forensic experts and officials from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board. 

Large sections of the departures hall were cordoned off with police tape in preparation for the hour-long sweep for traces of the highly potent toxin.

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Malaysian police had said they would do everything possible to ensure there was no risk to the public from the nerve agent.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Friday experts would sweep the site where the attack took place as well as other locations the female suspects visited.

Detectives are also holding a North Korean man but want to speak to seven other North Koreans, four of whom are thought to have fled to Pyongyang.

One man wanted for questioning, who is believed to still be in Malaysia, is senior North Korean embassy official Hyon Kwang Song, who enjoys diplomatic immunity.  

However, state police chief Abdul Samah Mat insisted under Malaysian law “we have the right to call anybody for statements for our investigations”.

He added if wanted people do not co-operate, police would issue a notice “compelling” them to come forward.

Abdul Samah also told reporters an investigation in connection to the murder was ongoing at an apartment complex in Kuala Lumpur but declined to comment on local media reports chemicals has been seized from the address. 

No next-of-kin have yet come forward to formally identify the body of the 45-year-old victim or provide a DNA sample, but Abdul Samah said authorities would give relatives a “reasonable” amount of time to do so.