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Australian PM boosts funding for drought resilience programs

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Canberra, May 7 (IANS) Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday announced half a billion Australian dollars in funding to help farmers and regional communities better prepare for future droughts.

Albanese and Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and for Emergency Management, have committed 519.1 million Australian dollars ($344 million) for the Future Drought Fund (FDF), Xinhua news agency reported.

The FDF was established in 2019 amid a major drought that began in 2017 to provide secure, continuous funding for drought resilience initiatives.

As part of the funding boost, Albanese and Watt said in a joint statement that the FDF and its objectives have been restructured to acknowledge climate change as a driver of longer and more severe droughts.

“It’s vital that we support Australian farmers and producers to be prepared for more severe weather impacts,” Albanese said.

“By doing the work now our rural and regional communities are not just reacting to events as they unfold, but will have considered plans to make them more resilient to climate change.”

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A 2023 review of the FDF by the Productivity Commission — the government’s principal review and advisory body — recommended a major overhaul of the fund to focus on projects that have a lasting public benefit.

It found that the FDF was a solid foundation for drought resilience but said greater planning and more targeted programmes were needed to deliver transformational change and community benefits.

Watt said on Tuesday that the additional funding for the new and improved FDF would make farmers and rural communities more self-reliant when drought hits.

–IANS

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Three Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza fighting

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Tel Aviv, May 29 (IANS/DPA) Three Israeli soldiers were killed when a booby trap exploded in a building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, local media reported.

The Israeli army confirmed that three soldiers from the Nahal infantry brigade had been killed in fighting in the southern Gaza Strip the previous day.

During the operation, Israeli soldiers went from house to house in search of weapons, the military said, without elaborating specifically on where or how they died. Local media said it was in a booby-trapped building in Rafah.

According to the army, the incident on Tuesday means that 639 Israeli service members have been killed and more than 3,600 others injured since the Hamas massacres of October 7 and Israel’s subsequent air and ground campaign in Gaza.

The Hamas-run health authority says more than 36,100 people have been killed so far in Gaza by Israel. The authority does not differentiate between civilians and fighters.

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–IANS/DPA

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Militants destroy third girls school in Pakistan in a month

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Islamabad, May 29 (IANS/DPA) Suspected militants ignited a fire with kerosene to burn down a girls’ school in north-western Pakistan near the Afghan border, in a third incident this month targeting female education, officials said on Wednesday.

The compound was set ablaze on Monday night in the region of North Waziristan, stoking fresh fears about the safety of female students, whose education has been a target of Islamists for years.

The incident, which occurred in the remote region, was reported on Wednesday, local police chief Rehan Khan told dpa.

North Waziristan had long served as a headquarters for al-Qaeda and the affiliated Taliban before they were chased out by the military in a series of offensives in 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban, a group that follows the same hard-line Islam as its Afghan counterparts but has a different organisation, have bombed girls’ schools in the past.

Hundreds of girls’ schools were bombed in Waziristan and Swat, the home town of noble laureate Malala Yousafzai, between 2007 and 2009 when the Pakistani Taliban ruled these regions.

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The latest attacks, after a gap of many years, have stoked fears that the militants can again target students as they did in 2014 when around 150 kids were killed at a military-run institution.

–IANS/DPA

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UK's first black female MP 'banned' from standing as Labour candidate

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London, May 29 (IANS/DPA) UK’s first-ever black female member of parliament (MP), Diane Abbott, has said she is “banned” from standing as a Labour candidate in the general election.

The long-standing MP for the London constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington had the Labour whip restored on Tuesday, months after an investigation into her comments on racism had concluded.

On Wednesday, she told the BBC, “Although the whip has been restored, I am banned from standing as a Labour candidate.”

Labour withdrew the whip from Abbott in April 2023 after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experienced prejudice, but not racism.

BBC Newsnight reported that Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had written to Abbott in December 2023 to say it had concluded an inquiry into her comments.

Asked about the investigation finishing in December, Labour leader Keir Starmer told broadcasters on Tuesday, “The process overall is obviously a little longer than the fact-finding exercise.”

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“But in the end, this is a matter that will have to be resolved by the National Executive Committee, and they’ll do that in due course.”

Starmer has previously said he could not get involved in the case.

The Times previously reported that Abbott, who made history when she was first elected in 1987, will be banned from standing as a Labour candidate, with suggestions that lifting her suspension would allow her to leave politics “with dignity.”

Campaign group Momentum previously said restoring the whip to Abbott only to block her would be “outrageous.”

It said, “Following a farcical, factional process, she has had the whip restored. Her local party reselected her unanimously. That should be the end of the matter.”

“Anything less is a slap in the face to Diane, her constituents and the millions inspired by her example as Britain’s first black woman MP.”

Abbott was reported to have been issued with a “formal warning” by the NEC for “engaging in conduct that was, in the opinion of the NEC, prejudicial and grossly detrimental to the Labour Party.”

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She was told to take part in an online e-learning module, which she completed in February, something that Labour’s chief whip allegedly acknowledged by email.

Abbott was an independent MP when Parliament was prorogued on Friday, May 24, ahead of the July 4 election.

The veteran MP was suspended after she responded to an Observer article headlined, “Racism in Britain is not a black and white issue. It’s far more complicated.”

She wrote in a letter to the title, “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus.”

Abbott later said she wished to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw” her remarks and disassociate herself from them.

–IANS/DPA

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World Bank approves $700 million for Rohingya refugees, host communities in Bangladesh

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Dhaka, May 29 (IANS) The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved two projects totalling 700 million US dollars to provide basic services and build disaster and social resilience for both the host communities and the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh.

The 350-million-dollar Inclusive Services and Opportunities for Host Communities and Displaced Rohingya Population Project and the 350-million-dollar Host and Rohingya Enhancement of Lives Project will together provide support to the Bangladeshi host communities and the Rohingya people as this crisis enters its seventh year, the Washington-based lender said in a statement on Tuesday.

Around 1 million displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar are currently living in Bangladesh, according to the statement, reports Xinhua news agency.

“We greatly appreciate the Government of Bangladesh’s generosity in supporting nearly one million Rohingya people. We also recognise the enormous pressure placed on the host communities,” said Abdoulaye Seck, World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.

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“With the crisis entering its seventh year, long-term planning and sustainable solutions have become critical while also addressing short-term, urgent needs. We are fully committed to supporting the Government of Bangladesh to address this complex crisis and support the wellbeing of both the Rohingya and host communities,” said the World Bank country director.

The Inclusive Services and Opportunities for Host Communities and Displaced Rohingya Population (ISO) Project will build on active investments in livelihoods and essential health, nutrition, family planning, gender-based violence response and prevention services for at least 980,000 people in the Rohingya and host communities.

The project will prioritise investment in human capital development, with the aim of supporting the education of 300,000 Rohingya children under the age of 12.

–IANS

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Hamas fighters in West Bank attack Israeli border village

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Tel Aviv, May 29 (IANS/DPA) Hamas fighters have fired on an Israeli border community from the West Bank.

A video released by Hamas on Wednesday showed three men with automatic rifles firing several rounds on an Israeli border community from the West Bank.

Israel’s Army Radio reported there were no casualties in Bat Hefer, a village located near the barrier that separates Israel and the West Bank, but there was damage to property.

The attackers, who are seen wearing Hamas headbands, came from a refugee neighbourhood in the Palestinian city of Tulkarm in the West Bank.

The Israeli army has repeatedly carried out raids in Tulkarm and other Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank.

Since the start of the Gaza war following the Hamas massacre on October 7, the situation in the West Bank has grown more tense.

According to the Ministry of Health in the West Bank, around 500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations, confrontations, or their own attacks since then.

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–IANS/DPA

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