News from throughout the world.
Nine years after her conviction and imprisonment for drug smuggling, Schapelle Corby is today expected to walk free from her Balinese jail.
Corby was arrested in 2004 at Bali Airport, following the discovery of 4.2kg of cannibas in her luggage. She was convicted in May 2005 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by the Denpasar District Court.
Following appeals, and a petition for clemency on the grounds of mental illness, in May 2012 she was granted a five-year sentence reduction – and last week, granted parole.
Kerobokan Prison Governor, Farid Junaedi, says the documents allowing her parole have been sent from Jakarta - and if received this morning, Corby could be free this afternoon.
Ms Corby will initially go to a parole office in Denpasar for fingerprinting. The next stop will be the Corrections office where she will have the conditions of her parole explained, including the arrangements for her monitoring.
Parole conditions will prevent her from leaving Indonesia.
Once free, Corby will go to the Kuta home of her sister, Mercedes, where she will initially be required to live.
Correspondent, Steve Marshall, says her departure from Kerobokan Prison will be greeted by a relentless media storm.
"It's an absolute circus outside the Bali prison. At last count I would say there were about 90 media personnel on the ground - cameras everywhere, trying to get every angle - and of course there's only one way in and one way out."
Correspondent, Steve Marshall, believes the intense media attention and public scrutiny surrounding Corby will prevent her from living any kind of ordinary life.
"She might well be going from one prison to another - the Bali prison, to Mercede’s home - she might not be able to go out without a media circus in-tow."
Television channels are preparing bids as high as $A3 million for Ms Corby's first television interview.
Australian Correspondent, Steve Price, says that sum of money reflects the public's intense fascination with the case, but it has also annoyed many Australians who think the Corby family had something to do with drug trafficking in the region.
The 36year old Australian has maintained her innocence from the time of her arrest, claiming the drugs were planted in her luggage and that she did not know about them.
“The public is still firmly split on all this,” says Price, “and I think more people think she - or her family at least - had something to do with taking drugs into Bali."
As she nervously awaits her release, Indonesians, too, are debating whether Corby is getting off lightly.
One group claims the decision could put the safety of the nation at risk.
Nevertheless, a close Australian friend of Corby says there will be big celebrations when she gets out of prison.
“She deserves a big welcome home party – a ‘good job for doing your time,’” he said.
And he believes she will be ready for the media attention, “because she has had so much of it in the past.”
- Rhema News/NewstalkZB
News of Syrian refugees being resettled in New Zealand is being welcomed by a support group.
Up to 100 refugees are to be accepted by the Government as part of its annual refugee quota.
Changemakers refugee forum general manager Tim O'Donovan says it's fantastic news, but it's a drop in the ocean compared to the number of people fleeing Syria.
He says more than two and a half million people are refugees as a result of the Syrian conflict, and New Zealand should do everything it can to help with that.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry has hit out at the "brutality" of the Syrian regime for its sustained barrel bomb campaign.
More than 150 people have reportedly been killed in Aleppo over the past four days, in a string of barrel bomb raids and other air strikes
Barrel bombs are an improvised blast weapon being used by the Syrian Air Force against anti-government forces.
- RHEMA MEDIA/Newstalk ZB
Actress, Scarlet Johansson, has ended her association with Oxfam over ‘fundamental differences of opinion’ regarding her support for Israeli company, Sodastream.
Ms Johansson recently signed on as the first global brand ambassador of SodaStream International Ltd which, according to The Telegraph “has come under fire from pro-Palestinian activists for maintaining a large factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, a territory captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians.”
In a statement released today, Oxfam says it believes businesses such as SodaStream that operate in settlements “further the on-going poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
According to the Washington Post, however, Sodastream employs 900 Palestinians, 'making it one of the largest employers of Palestinians.'
Oxfam says it is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which it says, are “illegal under international law.”
Oxfam says while it respects the independence of its ambassadors, Ms Johansson’s role promoting the Israeli company is “incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”
Oxfam is supportive of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement - a campaign started in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organisations to pressure Israel to end its “occupation and colonisation of Arab land.”
A spokesman for Ms Johansson said the actress and Oxfam have “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement” and she has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years.
Ms Johansson says she is very proud of her accomplishments and fund-raising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.
Oxfam says the actress has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and they are grateful for her many contributions.
Ms Johansson, who has described herself as Jewish (father is Danish and mother is American from an Ashkenazi Jewish family), is to appear in an advert for Sodastream on February 2nd during Super Bowl - the annual final of US professional football (NFL), and the most watched American television broadcast of the year.
According to NGO Monitor, in 2009 Oxfam also severed ties with actress Kristin Davis – an “ambassador” for Oxfam – due to her work endorsing the Israeli Ahava cosmetics company.
NGO Monitor says Oxfam “...consistently paints a highly misleading picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict, departing from its humanitarian mission focused on poverty. Most Oxfam statements erase all complexity and blame Israel exclusively for the situation, and these distortions and their impacts contribute significantly to the conflict.”
Oxfam actively lobbies the EU and Britain to sanction Israel, and its charitable status has come under scrutiny.
Critics of BDS argue that the movement promotes the de-legitimisation, or non-recognition, of the State of Israel.
Earlier this week, pro-Palestinian support groups in New Zealand called on Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, and Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, to withhold NZ visas from an Israeli dance group in support of the BDS campaign.
Spokesman, John Minto, said the Batsheva Dance Group was part of an “Israeli propaganda effort to deflect criticism of its appalling policies towards Palestinians.”
In response, Israeli ambassador, Yosef Livne, said the call for boycott of the cultural group should be rejected outright. “It is another facet of the comprehensive warfare that is being launched against Israel,” he said.
“Only a couple of days ago,” he said, “the world stopped to remember the victims of the Shoa (holocaust), whose suffering started with similar calls for Boycott.”
- Rhema News
Barack Obama's State of the Union speech is being seen by some as a defining test of his leadership.
Last year he failed to get any of his top 2013 priorities through a bitterly divided Congress.
The US president will seek to rally his divided nation and his own compromised political, when he steps up in the House of Representatives in Washington DC, this afternoon.
It's expected that he will use the issue of economic inequality to criticise the Republicans of holding his second term hostage.
White House aides say Obama will be optimistic and ambitious in the speech.
Bill Clinton's former speechwriter Jeff Shesol says today's speech will likely see Obama move to silence critics, who are already labelling him a lame duck President.
RHEMA MEDIA/Newstalk ZB
The first day of peace talks have been held in Switzerland and already discussions have been heated.
Curt words were exchanged within the first hour when an argument broke out between U.N Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and Syria's Foreign Minister over the length of time Walid al-Muallem was taking to speak.
Al-Muallem, on the defensive, ignored requests to stick to assigned speaking time limits.
Ban: “Can you just wrap up, because you have spoken for nearly 20 minutes...
Al-Muallem: “Mr Secretary, you spoke for 25 minutes…at least I need to speak 30 minutes….I came here after 12 hours on an aeroplane. I have few more minutes to end my speech.
Ban: "...I will give you another opportunity to speak."
Al-Muallem: "You live in New York and I live in Syria. I have the right to give Syrian version..."
Ban: “…inflammatory rhetoric…will not be constructive at this time."
Al-Muallem: "It is constructive."
Al Jazeera correspondent, Kamahl Santa Maria, says that is not a good sign.
"In two days’ time they will have to one-on-one talks between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government, and if that's the way mediation is going, I don't think it bodes terribly well for the big meeting."
And the tension is expected to rise.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, says Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, will not be part of any new transitional government.
The Syrian government says: "Nobody will touch the Presidency.”
But Kerry had strong words for Al Assad: "No-one should think there can be a place for a man who has turned on his own people, who permitted the death of 130,000..."
Syrian delegations will be taking part in direct talks in the coming days, and Sky's Sam Kiley says the definition of a proposed transitional government will be at the heart of the debate.
Syrian National Coalition officials, says Kiley, have insisted that any discussion of Assad continuing to remain in power would effectively end the talks.
"They're saying that if they get some kind of solid indication that transition means they can share power - without Assad - they will keep talking. If they don't get that indication fairly soon, they won't keep talking."
Yet, at the conclusion of the first day, the U.N Secretary General says there is still hope for peace.
"It is still not too late to end the bloodshed and find a peaceful and democratic future in a united Syria. The moment to act, decisively and courageously, is now."
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
Five children have been stranded for four days in a car with little food and water amid floodwaters in remote Western Australia.
The youngsters are aged between three and 11 years-old, and were travelling from Darwin to Halls Creek along an unsealed road when the vehicle became stranded by floodwaters on Friday.
A search plane located their vehicle this morning, but WA police say they have little food left and are boiling water to drink.
An operation to rescue the children and their father is underway.
- RBG News
The United Nations has withdrawn an invitation to Iran to attend the much-anticipated Syria peace conference, reversing a decision announced on Sunday.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose decision to invite Iran had threatened to unravel the Syria talks less than 48 hours before the scheduled start, issued a statement yesterday rescinding the invitation.
The United States had said it was surprised by the invitation because Iran had not agreed to conditions for the talks, to be held on Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland.
Mr. Ban contended he had been privately assured by the Iranians that they would respect the conditions. But in their public statements Iranian officials said Iran had been invited with no such conditions attached.
“Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman said in the statement.
- RBG News
The longest-serving heir-apparent in British history is taking a step closer to the throne.
Buckingham Palace has reshuffled key personnel, merging the two press offices of the Queen and Prince Charles.
The press operation will now be run from one office at the Palace, with Prince Charles’ head of communications, 54 year old Sally Osman, at the helm.
The hugely significant move is believed to be part of the preparation for the transition to a change of reign.
London correspondent, Peter Anderson, says the Queen is in her late 80s and has signalled she will be handing more responsibilities over to other members of the royal household.
"There has been a lot of speculation over William and Kate taking on a lot of her duties. What we are now getting is the clearest indication yet that effectively we are looking at a ‘job-share’ between Prince Charles and his mother, so the heir to the throne will increasingly stand in for the queen."
Prince Charles will be accompanying his mother to commemorate the Normandy landing later this year.
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
Police have confirmed the discovery of a body at Roses Gap in the Grampians National Park, about 45 kilometres from Horsham in Victoria.
A spokesman says the death is being treated as occurring as a result of the fires.
Arson and explosives squad investigators are heading to the scene.
Approximately 40 blazes are currently burning across Victoria - two threatening homes - but it is the Grampians fire that is causing the most concern for authorities, feeding speculation there could be another Black Saturday if things get out of hand.
Euan Ferguson from the State Control Centre says a changeable wind sweeping through the area is keeping crews on their toes.
"As the wind-change tracks across Victoria, any fires that we have in the landscape are going to potentially change direction under the influence of this south-westerly wind change. It's going to be a very significant event."
It is estimated more than 100 bushfires are burning across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.
Homes destroyed by fire now total 56.
According to Sky News Australia, South Australia is dealing with about 16 fires - including two major blazes that have been burning for several days.
A lightning strike is sweeping across the state and South Australia Chief Officer, Greg Nettleton, says the approaching thunderstorms will only add to the fire tally.
ABC News says residents in some communities have been told to leave while they still can, but others have been advised it is too late and they must take shelter immediately.
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says a squally cool change is expected across the country's south-east over the weekend which should lower temperatures - a welcome reprieve.
Melbourne has been sweltering for the past few days with temperatures reaching as high as 43 degrees; evenings have offered little respite, as the lowest temperatures sit around the mid 30’s.
Dozens in Victoria have been calling for ambulances today as the heat climbs towards the anticipated 44 degrees.
Before midday, 30 calls had been received from patients suffering heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and 37 people had suffered heart attacks.
Paramedics were also called to treat three children locked in cars.
Paul Hollman of Ambulance Victoria says people need to take care. "We have to keep vigilant, we have to respect this heat and we need to take precautions."
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
Egyptian voters have overwhelmingly backed a new constitution that paves the way for the army chief to run for president.
However voter turnout figures will provide a key measure of his popularity.
According to the Washington Post, although the government’s elections commission has not yet announced official results, state news media have reported that 98 per cent of voters in 25 of Egypt’s 27 provinces cast “Yes”.
Officials have said that Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi - Egypt’s armed forces chief and Defense Minister who toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July - is considering going for the top job himself in an election promised for later in the year.
On Tuesday, sporadic clashes between Morsi supporters and their opponents and police left at least nine people dead.
The violence has highlighted the government's precarious grip on the most populous Arab nation, which is still reeling from Morsi's ousting and a crackdown on his supporters.
Meanwhile, three Al-Jazeera journalists arrested at a Cairo hotel in December have been accused of biased reporting in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. Prosecutors say the trio, which includes Australian Peter Greste, confessed during an interrogation that they belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Prosecutors have charged that the journalists, who were not officially accredited, edited footage to tarnish Egypt's image abroad to serve the Brotherhood's interests.
Egyptian authorities say the investigation is still on-going.
A survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists reveals that in 2013 Egypt was among the most prolific jailers of journalists in the world, along with Syria and Iraq.
The Guardian says although press freedom temporarily increased following the ousting of President Mubarak in 2011, it grew increasingly tenuous during Morsi's year in office.
Committee to Protect Journalists reporter, Elana Beiser, says six journalists were killed for their work in 2013 - three in a single day, August 14, as they covered raids by Egyptian security forces on demonstrating supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since 1992, CPJ has documented the deaths of 10 journalists for their work in Egypt—nine of them since anti-government protests began in 2011.
- RBG News/NewstalkZB