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Moved from cyclone's path

About 2,000 Australians were being moved inland Thursday from part of the northern coast ahead of a powerful cyclone expected to hit this weekend.

Evacuees were being moved by air and road from remote, mostly indigenous communities on the east coast of the Northern Territory, with most going to the provincial capital, Darwin.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said Cyclone Trevor, with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (200 kph) and gusts of up to 160 mph (255 kph), was expected to bring heavy rainfall and a dangerous storm surge.

An emergency was declared in communities along the western Gulf of Carpentaria where Trevor is expected to make landfall on Saturday, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.

At landfall, Trevor is forecast to be a Category 4 severe tropical cyclone, roughly similar to a Category 2 or 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale used in the U.S.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Todd Smith said a further intensification has not been ruled out. Flash flooding was likely, with heavy rains of up to 8 inches (20 centimetres) in a day set to fall on ground "hard-baked" by drought, Smith said.

Gunner said the decision to evacuate the communities in the cyclone's path was due to their remoteness.

Almost 1,000 people had left the towns of Groote Eylandt and nearby Numbulwar by late Thursday, Gunner said. Most of Borroloola's 900 residents were expected to be evacuated, along with several smaller communities. Most would be housed in temporary accommodations in Darwin, he said.

Air force Hercules aircraft, along with helicopters, buses and cars were being used to transport evacuees to Darwin and nearby Katherine, with sleeping areas set up in buildings on local fairgrounds, Smith said. Steps were being taken to ensure indigenous cultural protocols were respected and tribal languages used.

It's the largest pre-cyclone evacuation in Northern Territory history, and the largest cyclone-related exodus since Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people and forcing 30,000 to flee the city.

Trevor earlier crossed the Cape York peninsula in northern Queensland state, causing flooding, closing roads and knocking out power. No fatalities have been recorded.

Meanwhile, another powerful category 4 cyclone was bearing down on the other side of Australia's northern rim.

Cyclone Veronica is expected to reach the Pilbara area on the north coast of Western Australia state over the weekend.

"While it is possible the cyclone may weaken before reaching the Pilbara coast, a severe impact is likely," the Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.





'Military-style' guns banned

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced a ban of "military-style" semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines like those used in the shootings at Christchurch mosques last week.

Ardern said a sales ban was effective immediately to prevent stockpiling and would be followed by a complete ban on the weapons after new laws were rushed through.

She said people could hand over their guns under an amnesty while officials develop a formal buyback scheme, which could cost up to 200 million New Zealand dollars ($140 million).

The man charged in the mosque attacks had purchased his weapons legally using a standard firearms license and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines "done easily through a simple online purchase," Ardern said.

"Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned," she said.

The ban includes any semi-automatic guns or shotguns that are capable of being used with a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds. It also extends to accessories used to convert guns into what the government called "military-style" weapons.

It does not include semi-automatic .22 calibre or smaller guns that hold up to 10 rounds or semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns with non-detachable magazines that hold up to five rounds. The guns not banned are commonly used by farmers and hunters.

The government said the police and military would be exempt as would businesses carrying out professional pest control. Access for international shooting competitions would also be considered.

There are nearly 250,000 licensed gun owners in New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million people. Officials estimate there are 1.5 million guns in the country.

Ardern's announcement comes as authorities announced that all 50 bodies from the attacks were formally identified and families were burying their loved ones.

At least nine funerals took place Thursday, including for a teenager, a youth soccer coach and a Muslim convert who loved connecting with other women at the mosque.

After Ardern's announcement, one of New Zealand's largest gun retailers, Hunting & Fishing New Zealand, reiterated its support of "any government measure to permanently ban such weapons."



Terrorism charge laid

The main suspect in a deadly tram shooting in the Dutch city of Utrecht will be charged with offences including multiple murder or manslaughter with a terrorist intent, prosecutors said Thursday.

Investigations so far into Monday's shooting that left three dead and three seriously injured indicate that the shooter acted alone, prosecutors said in a written statement.

The main suspect, identified by police as Gokmen Tanis, a 37-year-old man of Turkish descent, also faces charges of attempted murder or manslaughter and making threats with a terrorist intent.

The prosecution office statement adds that investigations are continuing into whether the suspect's actions "flowed from personal problems combined with a radicalized ideology."

The team investigating the shooting will ask a forensic psychiatry and psychology institute to carry out a personality test on the suspect.

Tanis is to appear before an investigating judge on Friday. Such hearings are held behind closed doors.

A 40-year-old man detained Tuesday afternoon is still under investigation to establish "if he possibly had a supporting role, outside the shooting incident," prosecutors said.

Two men and a woman were killed Monday when a shooter opened fire on a tram in Utrecht. Authorities put the Netherlands' fourth largest city in lockdown for hours amid fears that more than one shooter was active at different locations.

The terror alert level also was raised from four to the maximum five while police hunted for the shooter. It was dropped to four once the suspect was detained.

Prosecutors have said they were focused on a possible terrorist motive because of the nature of the shooting — they say none of the victims was known to the alleged shooter — and because of a note found in a getaway car. They have not disclosed what was written in the note.

A silent march is planned for Friday evening in Utrecht to commemorate the victims.



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Arrested, busts a move

Law-breaking turned into breakdancing at the end of a Southern California vehicle pursuit.

TV news helicopters were overhead Tuesday night when a suspect pursued by the California Highway Patrol finally surrendered, but broke out into a 10-second dance before being handcuffed.

The pursuit began in the Calabasas area and headed east on U.S. 101 into Los Angeles, then north on Interstate 405 where the motorist exited the freeway in the San Fernando Valley.

A CHP cruiser finally bumped the car and spun it out. The driver got out with hands up but did not appear to be fully complying with officers pointing guns at him.

As the scene became illuminated by a law enforcement helicopter's spotlight, the driver suddenly busted a move before being busted.



Abducts kids, burns bus

A bus driver in northern Italy abducted 51 children and their chaperones Wednesday, ordering the children's hands to be bound and threatening them with death during the 40-minute ordeal, before setting the vehicle on fire when he was stopped by a Carabinieri blockade.

Officer broke glass windows in the back of the bus and got all the passengers to safety without serious injury before the flames destroyed the vehicle, authorities said. As he was apprehended, the driver said he was protesting migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, Commander Luca De Marchis told Sky TG24.

De Marchis told Sky TG24 that the driver, an Italian citizen of Senegalese origin in his 40s, threatened the passengers, telling them that "no one would survive today" as he commandeered the bus carrying two middle-school classes to a nearby gym in Cremona province, 40 kilometres from Milan.

ANSA quoted one of the students as saying the driver took all their phones and ordered the chaperones to bind the students' hands with cable ties, threatening to spill gas and set the bus ablaze. ANSA said the chaperones only loosely bound several students' hands, not everyone's.

One of the middle school students described his terror in an interview with La Repubblica TV, his face obscured due to his age. His name was not given.

"We were all very afraid because the driver had emptied the gas canister onto the floor (of the bus.) He tied us up and took all the telephones so we could not call the police," the student said.

"One of the telephones, belonging to a classmate, fell to the ground, so I pulled off the handcuffs, hurting myself a bit, and went and picked it up. We called the Carabinieri and the police."

Authorities said that an adult called an emergency operator, while one of the students called a parent, and they alerted authorities, who set up roadblocks. The bus was intercepted on the outskirts of Milan by three Carabinieri vehicles, which were able to force it into the guardrail, De Marchis said.

"While two officers kept the driver busy — he took a lighter and threatened to set fire to the vehicle with a gasoline canister on board — the others forced open the back door, breaking two windows," De Marchis said. While the evacuation was still underway, the driver started the blaze.

Some of the passengers were treated at a hospital, mostly for cuts and scratches related to the evacuation, he said.

The driver was apprehended and was being treated for burns. ANSA identified him as Ousseynou Sy, and said he was being investigated on suspicion of kidnapping, intention to commit a massacre, arson and resisting law enforcement. The prosecutor's office later said they would add terrorism as an aggravating circumstance, since the event caused panic.



Cyclone toll passes 300

Mozambique began three days of national mourning on Wednesday for more than 200 victims of Cyclone Idai, while the death toll in neighbouring Zimbabwe rose to more than 100 from one of the most destructive storms to strike southern Africa in decades.

Torrential rains were expected to continue into Thursday and floodwaters were still rising, according to aid groups trying to get food, water and clothing to desperate survivors. It will be days before Mozambique's inundated plains drain toward the Indian Ocean and even longer before the full scale of the devastation is known.

People have been clinging to trees and huddling on rooftops since the cyclone roared in over the weekend, and aid groups were desperately trying to rescue as many as they can. The United Nations humanitarian office said the town of Buzi, with some 200,000 people, was at risk of becoming at least partially submerged.

"Floodwaters are predicted to rise significantly in the coming days and 350,000 people are at risk," the U.N. office said.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa received a sombre welcome in the hard-hit mountain community of Chimanimani near the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwean officials have said some 350 people may have died.

"We do not want to hear that anyone has died of hunger," Mnangagwa said.

Clutching a bag of his few remaining possessions, Amos Makunduwa described the devastation with one stark sentence. "There is death all over," he said.

"It is beginning to smell really bad," he added. "The whole area is like one big body of water, huge rocks and mud. There are no houses, as if no one ever stayed here."

The force of the flood waters swept some victims from Zimbabwe down the mountainside into Mozambique, officials said. "Some of the peasants in Mozambique were calling some of our people to say, 'We see bodies, we believe those bodies are coming from Zimbabwe,'" said a local government minister, July Moyo.

Entire villages were swept away, said Gen. Joe Muzvidziwa, who was leading the military's rescue efforts in Zimbabwe. Some people had been out at beer halls when the cyclone hit and came home to find nothing left.

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi said late Tuesday that more than 200 people were confirmed dead in his country. After flying over the affected region on Monday, he said he expected the death toll to be more than 1,000.

Aid workers were shocked as they arrived in the Mozambique port city of Beira, estimated to be 90 per cent destroyed. The 500,000 residents of the city, which has some neighbourhoods that are below sea level, were scrambling for food, fuel and medicine.

"The power of the cyclone is visible everywhere, with shipping containers moved like little Lego blocks," said Marc Nosbach, Mozambique country director for the aid group CARE.



Iran celebrates fire festival

Iran's many woes briefly went up in smoke as Iranians observed a nearly 4,000-year-old Persian tradition known as the Festival of Fire.

The celebration is held on the last Tuesday night before Nowruz, or the Iranian New Year, which will be celebrated Thursday. The annual ritual dates back to at least 1700 B.C. and is linked to the Zoroastrian religion.

To celebrate, people light bonfires, set off fireworks and send wish lanterns floating off into the night sky. Others jump over and around fires, chanting "My yellow is yours, your red is mine," invoking the replacement of ills with warmth and energy.

The fire festival also features an Iranian version of trick-or-treating, with people going door to door and being given a holiday mix of nuts and berries, as well as buckets of water.

Arezou Abarghouei held hands with her daughter and husband as they leaped over a small fire in Tehran.

"Iranians love to celebrate, and they need it, especially now, when all of us are facing economic problems," she said. "This is a way to forget these difficulties just for one night."

This year Nowruz comes at a time of growing economic hardship following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and restore crippling sanctions. Iran's currency has plummeted in recent months, sending prices skyrocketing and wiping out many people's life savings.

The fire festival is one of two holidays with ancient roots that are still observed each year in the Islamic Republic, the other being a picnic day in early April.

The holiday offers a rare opportunity for Iranians to dance and celebrate in public, something authorities usually frown on. Police warned people to stay away from major streets and public squares, but largely ignored celebrations held inside neighbourhoods.

Hard-liners discourage such celebrations, viewing them as pagan holdovers. The Western-allied monarchy that was toppled by the 1979 Islamic revolution had emphasized the country's pre-Islamic past, presenting itself as heir to a Persian civilization stretching back to antiquity.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted head of the country's emergency committee as saying 155 people were injured during the celebrations, mainly from fireworks. It said 22 people lost limbs and 48 suffered eye injuries.



Trump's linchpin state

President Donald Trump is returning to the state that foretold his 2016 victory and serves as the linchpin of his re-election effort.

Trump's visit to Ohio on Wednesday marks his first trip to the state since last year's midterm election campaign , when the state was a rare bright spot for Republicans in the upper Midwest. But with Trump's path to another four years in the White House relying on a victory in the state, his nascent campaign is mindful of warning signs that Ohio can hardly be taken for granted in 2020.

Perhaps no state has better illustrated the re-aligning effects of Trump's candidacy and presidency than Ohio, where traditionally Democratic-leaning working-class voters have swung heavily toward the GOP, and moderate Republicans in populous suburban counties have shifted away from Trump. It's for that reason, administration officials said, that Trump keeps returning to Ohio — this week's visit marks his 10th to the state since taking office.

The visit is part of a 2020 Trump strategy to appear in battleground states in his official White House capacity as much as possible this year, said a person with knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly. Trump is expected to make similar trips throughout the year as he seeks to boost enthusiasm to counter an energized Democratic base. It's a strategy employed by previous presidents, both to leverage the prestige of office for political purposes and to offset the steep costs of presidential campaign travel with corresponding taxpayer-funded events.

Trump is set to visit the Lima Army Tank Plant, which had been at risk for closure but is now benefiting from his administration's investments in defence spending. He'll also hold a fundraiser for his re-election campaign in Canton. Administration officials said the resurgence of the tank plant, which has benefited that region of the state, offers a compelling story for Trump to relate.

For both parties, the results of the 2018 midterms have become a sort of "choose-your-own-adventure" moment for 2020 prognosticators. Republicans contend that the election of the state's GOP governor, Mike DeWine, largely mirrored Trump's 2016 path to victory and proves the strength of his coalition. They believe Trump's coattails in the state are long, as incumbent Republican congressional candidates in suburban counties like Reps. Steve Chabot and Troy Balderson won re-election last year in no small part because of the president's frequent visits to the state.

"He's a fighter," said Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, "and that's one of the reasons why if you look at the Mahoning Valley, that's become a Republican portion of the state."

Democrats, for their part, highlight the re-election of Sen. Sherrod Brown, viewing his victory on a populist appeal as a signpost for their 2020 ticket. "A lot was driven by a realignment occurring among former Republican strongholds in the suburbs," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. "With the right candidates, with the right message, 2020 could look a lot like Sherrod Brown's victory."

Nationally, Democrats have placed less of an emphasis on the traditional battleground state. Ohio was conspicuously absent from the list of key 2020 states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida — that are receiving a share of a $100 million investment by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA. The state doesn't even make the PAC's "phase two" roster, which includes Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and New Hampshire.



Ex soccer star arrested

Former Southampton and Portsmouth midfielder Jhon Viafara has been arrested in his native Colombia on a U.S. drug warrant.

Colombia's chief prosecutor's office said Wednesday that prosecutors in Texas believe Viafara was part of a criminal network tied to the nation's feared Gulf cartel, which for a decade moved large shipments of cocaine on fast boats and semi-submersible through the Pacific Ocean to Central America and onto the U.S.

He was arrested Tuesday along with four other people near the southern city of Cali after being involved in a car accident. Police say he was speeding while driving intoxicated.

The 40-year-old Viafara played on several Colombian club teams and the national team as well as Portsmouth, Southampton and Spain's Real Sociedad before retiring in 2015.



Lineup for Woodstock 50

Jay-Z, Dead & Company and the Killers will headline one of the 50th anniversary shows commemorating the groundbreaking Woodstock festival this summer.

Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang announced Tuesday that Miley Cyrus, Santana, Imagine Dragons, Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters, the Black Keys and Chance the Rapper will also perform at the Woodstock 50 Music and Arts Fair, which will take place Aug. 16-18 in Watkins Glen, New York, about 115 miles (185 kilometres) northwest of the original site. The event is separate from an anniversary concert planned at the site of the original festival in 1969.

Tickets for the three-day festival pushing the message of peace, love and music go on sale April 22, which is Earth Day.

Lang said though Woodstock took place 50 years ago, today's world and 1969 are somewhat parallel.

"It's kind of spooky how similar things are. How some of the things that we thought we'd gone past in the last 50 years — the racial divides, care for the environment and women's rights — now we have Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement and climate deniers and another (expletive) in the White House," Lang said. "So, it's very similar."

Lang made the announcement at a press conference at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios in New York City alongside Common and John Fogerty, who performed at the original Woodstock. Both Fogerty and Common will perform this summer.

Fogerty, 73, recalled performing his set in 1969 after the Grateful Dead hit the stage. He said he took the stage after midnight and half of the audience was asleep.

"I was frustrated and I said something like, 'We hope you're having a good time out there. We're playing our hearts out for ya up here.' And I don't really see much moving. I see a light, somebody's lighter goes on in the darkness and somebody out there says, 'Don't worry about it John, we're with ya!' So I played the whole rest of my complete Woodstock concert for that guy," he said.

More than 80 artists, including David Crosby, Janelle Monae, Brandi Carlile, Country Joe McDonald, Halsey, the Lumineers, Portugal the Man and India.Arie, are expected to perform on three main stages at Watkins Glen International racetrack in the Finger Lakes for Woodstock 50. The original concert was held on a farm in Bethel, New York that is now run as an attraction by The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The venue plans its own anniversary event Aug. 16-18.

Common, 47, said he is happy to represent hip-hop music at Woodstock 50 and be a part of a festival that not only focuses on music, but has a strong social and political presence.

"To be able to be connected to Woodstock in any shape, form or fashion for me is one of the greatest honours I've had as an artist, as human being (and) as a musician," the Grammy, Oscar and Emmy winner said. "There's so much going on right now (and) I think one of the best ways we can combat the ignorance, the divisiveness, the hatred is to go out there (and) push love and express love and practice love, and it definitely comes through, that love comes through at Woodstock."

"I'm not 50, but I'm grateful to be a part of this," Common said as the audience laughed.

More than 400,000 people attended the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, which was held Aug. 15-17, 1969.



Mosque funerals begin

A father and son who fled the civil war in Syria for "the safest country in the world" were buried before hundreds of mourners Wednesday, the first funerals for victims of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that horrified a nation known for being welcoming and diverse.

The funerals of Khalid Mustafa, 44, and Hamza Mustafa, 15, came five days after a white supremacist methodically gunned down 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch — a massacre that he broadcast live on Facebook.

Hamza's high school principal described the student as compassionate and hardworking, and said he was an excellent horse rider who aspired to be a veterinarian.

Those present included Hamza's younger brother, 13-year-old Zaed, who was wounded in an arm and a leg during the attack. The boy tried to stand during the ceremony but had to sit back in his wheelchair, one mourner said.

"We tried to not shake his hand, and not touch his hand or his foot, but he refused, he wanted to shake everybody's hand, he wanted to show everyone that he appreciated them. And that's amazing," said Jamil El-Biza, who travelled from Australia to attend the funeral.

The Mustafas had moved to New Zealand last year, after spending six years as refugees in Jordan. Mustafa's wife, Salwa, told Radio New Zealand that when the family asked about New Zealand they were told "it's the safest country in the world, the most wonderful country you can go ... you will start a very wonderful life there."

She added, "But it wasn't."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the family should have been safe.

"I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that a family came here for safety and for refuge," she said.

Families of those killed had been anxiously awaiting word on when they could bury their loved ones. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police have now formally identified and released the remains of 21 of those killed. Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible.

Four other burials were under way on Wednesday evening. Those victims include Junaid Ismail, Ashraf Ali and Lilik Abdul Hamid. The fourth victim's name was suppressed by court order.

The burials began soon after Ardern renewed her call for people to speak of the victims rather than the man who killed them.

Also on Wednesday, a man accused of sharing video footage of Friday's massacre was jailed by a judge until his next court appearance in mid-April. And Bush said he believes police officers stopped the gunman on his way to a third attack.

Ardern's plea against giving the accused gunman notoriety followed his move to represent himself in court, raising concerns he would attempt to use the trial as a platform for airing his racist views.

During a visit Wednesday to the high school Hamza and another victim attended, Ardern revisited that thought and asked students not to say the attacker's name or dwell on him.

"Look after one another, but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism," she told students at Cashmere High School. "That's something we can all do."



Earthquake hits Turkey

A moderately-strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.5 hit southwestern Turkey on Wednesday, Turkish authorities said. At least three people sustained minor injuries but there were no reports of any deaths.

The government-run Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said the earthquake was centred in the town of Acipayam, in Denizli province, and was also felt in neighbouring provinces. It was followed by some 30 aftershocks, the strongest measuring 4.8.

The Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute measured the quake's magnitude at 5.7.

Gov. Hasan Karahan said three people were hurt by falling bricks or after jumping from balconies.

The quake demolished some homes, mostly abandoned or mud-brick constructions, in rural areas, according to the deputy governor for Denizli, Turan Atlamaz.

Schools were closed in the region, the DHA private news agency reported. Authorities also evacuated a hospital in Acipayam as a precaution.

Turkey lies on two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent. In 1999, a magnitude-7.4 quake killed more than 17,000 people in northwestern Turkey.



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