The Guardian 2024-03-09 10:01:06


Melbourne’s Moomba parade cancelled due to heat as festivalgoers in Victoria advised to leave amid fire warnings

Pitch music and arts festival attenders urged to delay arrival, with those already on site advised to head home

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Festivalgoers at a music festival in Victoria’s Grampians have been advised to leave amid the extreme heat and fire danger, while Melbourne’s iconic Moomba Parade has been cancelled due to soaring temperatures.

Residents across four states have been experiencing stifling conditions, with high temperatures forecast over the long weekend in many parts of the country.

Moomba Parade organisers said the difficult decision was made “to ensure the health and safety” of performers, spectators, workers and volunteers. The wider festival will still go ahead, with some interruptions.

In an Instagram post, Pitch music and arts festival said the Country Fire Authority had advised the safest option for those already on site was to leave on Saturday morning due to the bushfire risk. The festival – which is due to run from 8 to 12 March – is at Moyston, where temperatures are forecast to reach 38C on Saturday and 39C on Sunday.

“If you are arriving on Saturday we recommend delaying your arrival until further notice,” the post read.

“The forecast tells us to expect hot weather each day of the festival. In addition, overnights will also be warm.”

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The CFA said its general advice for people in an area with an extreme fire danger rating, like the Pitch festival, is to leave early in the day as the safest option.

There are no extreme fire danger ratings forecast across the state on Sunday.

The festival had organised free shuttle buses running from Pitch to Ararat station on Saturday, for those wishing to leave. Organisers said they were working closely with authorities and that there were no active fires in the region.

In a statement, Pitch festival organisers said programming would commence at 6pm on Saturday and will continue as scheduled for the remainder of the event. Organisers said they are working “through the specifics” in relation to refunds, and ticket holders would “receive an update as more information becomes available”.

Prior to the program resuming at 6pm, the festival will offer “light entertainment under the shade”, including yoga, to ensure patrons “are not remaining in their campsites in the heat of the day”.

Pitch’s Instagram post has more than 800 comments, with some questioning why the festival had not been cancelled.

One person at the festival commented that they had to pay for wifi at a food stall to access the information.

“All of the sets at the stages stopped without warning and I had to walk around and ask people if they knew what was going on,” they wrote.

Another said their group had left the festival on Saturday morning and were feeling “incredibly frustrated” about missing the performances, but also about the money they had spent.

Artist Bailey Ibbs confirmed on social media he would not be playing his set on Saturday night as planned.

“Due to advice from the CFA, I’m incredibly upset and gutted but that’s life,” he wrote on Instagram.

In a post to Facebook, the local Moyston CFA brigade said it is meeting daily with event organisers.

“We continue to work with [and] wish the festival all the best for a safe [and] successful event,” it wrote.

The Golden Plains festival, which is taking place just under two hours away from Pitch, says it is going ahead. Gates opened at 8am on Saturday.

Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales were set to experience stifling conditions from Saturday through to Monday.

A total fire ban was in place across five districts in Victoria on Saturday. The ban applies to the Wimmera, west and south Gippsland, central, north central and southwest regions.

Across the state, Melbourne is tipped to reach a top of 39C on Saturday, while conditions are set to hit 41C at Warrnambool, Torquay and Avalon. The state’s central district is slated to reach 41C and 40C is forecast for popular holiday towns along the Murray River. The south-west is expected to record its sixth-highest maximum temperatures on record in some areas.

“We have only seen three consecutive days of above 38C in Melbourne three times during March in the past 100 years,” Bureau of Meteorology senior meteorologist Lincoln Trainor said.

Dangerous fire conditions are forecast to ease across Victoria from Sunday.

Meanwhile, the mercury is set to reach the low 40Cs in South Australia as severe heatwave conditions extend farther west of the Eyre Peninsula over the long weekend.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned of a prolonged run of heat from Ceduna to Port Lincoln, Adelaide, the Barossa Valley, Narracoorte and Mount Gambier.

The state government activated a code red response late on Friday, with additional services available to people sleeping rough.

Adelaide is in the midst of its busy festival period and many have triggered heat plans, including the Fringe festival, the South Australian athletics championship and the Adelaide Cup horse race.

Extreme and severe heatwave conditions have also hit Tasmania, with warnings or much of the state’s north and northeast. Areas affected include Burnie, Devonport, Launceston, Richmond, Swansea and Whitemark.

Hobart is expected to reach at least 35C on Saturday, and may break its minimum March temperature record of 21.1C on Sunday, Trainor said. There will be relief for King Island on Sunday but that’s not expected to flow through to the rest of the state until Tuesday.

Southern NSW is also experiencing a severe heatwave with temperatures set to reach the high 30s in several areas including the Riverina, Lower Western, Upper Western and South West Slopes.

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Melissa Caddick’s luxury Sydney penthouse sells for undisclosed amount

Proceeds from sale – which is believed to be below $5 million – will be used to pay back some of the money stolen from investors

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Conwoman Melissa Caddick’s luxury Sydney penthouse is finally off the market and the proceeds will be used to pay back some of the money stolen from dozens of investors, many of whom were her close friends and family.

The apartment atop the Eastpoint Tower at Edgecliff in Sydney’s eastern suburbs was listed for auction on 10 October for an estimated $5.5m.

However, it was withdrawn and put on the market for private sale, liquidators Jones Partners said at the time.

Firm principal Bruce Gleeson confirmed the penthouse had been sold in a statement on Saturday.

“We have informed the creditors for Maliver Pty Ltd [in liquidation] and out-of-pocket-investors for Melissa Caddick of the sale,” he said.

“Sydney Sotheby’s assisted in selling the penthouse with settlement expected in April.”

The price has not been disclosed but it is believed to be below the $5m mark.

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The apartment was previously occupied by Caddick’s parents, Ted and Barbara Grimley, and boasts sweeping panoramic views of Sydney’s city skyline and eastern suburbs.

She bought the apartment for the Grimleys in 2016, paying $2.55m.

The couple later said they paid their now-dead daughter almost $1.2m toward the mortgage on the apartment on the condition they could live there rent-free until they died.

But in the end, the Grimleys agreed to leave after a long-running court battle in exchange for a $950,000 payout from Caddick’s estate.

“Spacious throughout and stylishly presented with understated contemporary finishes, this is the perfect opportunity for downsizers, executives and families who seek undeniable quality and convenience,” the online listing for the property said.

Caddick, a self-styled financial adviser, lived a life of luxury on the back of about $23m stolen mostly from family and friends via an investment scam.

The 49-year-old disappeared in November 2020, just days after her Sydney eastern suburbs home was raided by Asic investigators.

A coroner in May ruled Caddick was dead but could not determine the cause.

The fraudster’s badly decomposed right foot, which was still attached to a running shoe, washed up on a beach on the south coast of NSW in February 2021, but the rest of her body has not been found.

Investors received a share of $3m recouped by liquidators Jones Partners in August last year after the sale of Caddick’s share portfolio and Dover Heights cliff-top mansion.

At the time, Gleeson said it was not unusual for investors to receive nothing back from Ponzi schemes.

He said the sale of the Edgecliff apartment would allow for further significant distributions to investors.

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‘Devastated’: the Samantha Murphy case weighs heavy on a small Australian community

Despite a murder charge being laid, the search for the Ballarat woman’s body continues

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It was not just in the streets of the regional Australian city of Ballarat where the unanswered question of what had happened to Samantha Murphy weighed heavy.

For more than a month, the case of the missing runner – a beloved mother of three who never returned home – rippled through political and legal circles, and around dinner tables across the nation.

The historic gold-mining town, about a 90km drive north-west of Melbourne, became engulfed in a missing person’s case that captivated the country and became drenched in speculation and rumour.

On Thursday, the mood changed.

Early that afternoon, police announced they had charged a 22-year-old man, Patrick Stephenson, with her murder. The son of a former Australian rules footballer lived about 20km from Murphy but was not known to her family, police allege.

The breakthrough came nearly five weeks since Murphy left for an early-morning 14km run in the dense bushland around her home.

In the 32 days since she was last captured on CCTV in her driveway, the ground search has spanned hundreds of hectares and included police, locals and emergency services.

Volunteers banded together online to connect those eager to help search for her, and coordinated a large-scale search almost two weeks ago that attracted people from around the country. They combed through the dense bushland in search of any clues that could help find the missing woman.

Ballarat woman Tori Baxter, an organiser of the volunteer-led searches, says the community is “devastated” by the police allegations.

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“No one ever wants to hear something so horrific has happened to anyone, let alone someone that we’ve been actively trying to find to help get answers for Samantha’s family,” she says.

“There’s a lot of grief in the community at the moment.”

‘Unanswered questions’

The Ballarat mayor, Des Hudson, describes this week as providing some sort of “devastating closure” to a case that “resonated around Australia”.

“There are still lots of unanswered questions that are in the hearts and minds of community members,” he says.

“It’s important also that we don’t let Sam’s memory go.”

Police allege Murphy was murdered on the day she disappeared, in the Mount Clear area – where mobile phone data allegedly led police to return to the area previously searched.

But her body has not been found.

Hudson says it is important for women to know “they should be able to go out … and do those things that they would expect to be able to do”.

He offered an explanation to the ABC as to why this case seemed to attract so much emotion and intrigue. “I think the fact that Sam was a mum, had young kids, or young teenagers, and just disappeared without any trace, it really sparked the emotion of our community and communities from everywhere.”

While social media groups were used to coordinate ground searches for Murphy, they quickly became littered with rumours, unfounded speculation and theories from overseas-based psychics.

The speculation became more wild when, two weeks ago, police confirmed they were doubtful Murphy was alive and suspected one or more parties were involved in her disappearance.

During that press conference, when a renewed ground search was announced, reporters peppered acting Det Supt Mark Hatt, who fended off wide-ranging questions.

By Monday, police said they were trying to sort through more than 770 individual tips and other pieces of information as part of the investigation.

‘Trying to be brave for everybody’

There appeared palpable relief from Murphy’s husband, Michael, on Thursday. He described news of an arrest as feeling “like someone’s just let the pressure valve off”.

His voice shaking, he told reporters: “God, the adrenaline with everything that’s been going on, it’s just trying to be brave for everybody.”

“It’s something that you wouldn’t want anyone to experience,” he said.

The state’s police commissioner, Shane Patton, said on Thursday the Murphy family had been under “intense scrutiny” from the outset, and stressed they had “no involvement whatsoever in this matter”.

Patton thanked the Ballarat and wider community for assisting the investigation, saying the case has had a “profound impact” on locals.

“Some cases, some disappearances … bring out outpourings of grief. We’ve seen that here,” he said.

At a vigil on Friday night, the Ballarat community paid tribute to Murphy, who some locals knew only through her smile and the “hellos” she would offer on her regular walks through the bushland on the edge of the town.

Weeks after they first came together to form search parties, the Ballarat community was united to offer condolences to Murphy’s loved ones, who still wait for her to be brought home.

As Hudson told the ABC on Friday: “For Sam’s family and close friends, they can never move on, there will always be a hole in their lives.”

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Officers who shot and killed woman caught stabbing mother in Melbourne faced ‘terrible dilemma’, police say

Police say they ‘acted appropriately’ when they shot a 26-year-old woman who fatally stabbed her 53-year-old mother

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A Victorian woman shot and killed by police officers on Friday evening was caught in the process of stabbing her mother, police say.

Police revealed details about the incident on Saturday, saying that an officer was called to a home in Melbourne’s north-east at about 6.30pm after neighbours mistakenly reported that a young woman was trying to set her mother on fire.

Victoria police acting Supt Scott Colson said the officers then saw a 26-year-old women over a fence in the process of attacking her 53-year-old mother, but when they asked the younger women to stop, she continued the assault.

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One of the officers then shot the younger woman, who died at the scene.

Colson said that by the time the officer opened fire, the older woman had already died after being stabbed in the torso and neck.

“From what I know from attending the scene last night, they were confronted with a terrible dilemma and they’ve acted absolutely appropriately, within their training and within the guidelines,” Colson said.

“They have my full support along with the broader organisation.

Colson said it was not known how many shots were fired but the officer involved had about four years’ experience, and his colleague had six.

The homicide squad, under oversight from Victoria police’s professional standards command, would investigate the incident, he said.

The daughter was on bail for an unrelated matter at the time of her death, and someone unrelated to her family had an intervention order out against her.

The incident happened at the mother’s home but there was no court order stopping the daughter from being there.

“The members were surrounded by and given as much support as we can yesterday,” Supt Colson said.

“They were feeling it tremendously … they don’t go to work expecting to draw their firearms and be involved in these sorts of tragedies.”

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The UN’s top aid official has renewed his call for a ceasefire in Gaza and outlined six priorities in the humanitarian response.

In a social media post via the account of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Ocha) on Friday, Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief coordinator, wrote:

The hostilities in Gaza entered their sixth month. These six facts should keep us all awake at night:

1) More than half a million people are on the brink of famine. Children are dying of hunger.

2) In February, only half of the 224 aid missions planned were allowed by the Israeli authorities.

3) Lawlessness is rampant and is hindering aid distribution.

4) Aid delivery methods of last resort like airdrops are increasingly common.

5) More than 160 UN staff have been killed.

6) The remaining hostages have yet to be released.

He continued: “We know what to do to save lives, but we need the right conditions and guarantees.” Griffiths then listed six “things that would make a difference”:

1) A ceasefire and full adherence to the rules of war.

2) Additional entry points, supply routes and storage capacity in Gaza.

3) Better protection for aid convoys.

4) Free and safe movement of humanitarian supplies through checkpoints.

5) Road repairs and clearance of unexploded ordnance.

6) A bigger role for the commercial sector.

The UN’s top aid official has renewed his call for a ceasefire in Gaza and outlined six priorities in the humanitarian response.

In a social media post via the account of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Ocha) on Friday, Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief coordinator, wrote:

The hostilities in Gaza entered their sixth month. These six facts should keep us all awake at night:

1) More than half a million people are on the brink of famine. Children are dying of hunger.

2) In February, only half of the 224 aid missions planned were allowed by the Israeli authorities.

3) Lawlessness is rampant and is hindering aid distribution.

4) Aid delivery methods of last resort like airdrops are increasingly common.

5) More than 160 UN staff have been killed.

6) The remaining hostages have yet to be released.

He continued: “We know what to do to save lives, but we need the right conditions and guarantees.” Griffiths then listed six “things that would make a difference”:

1) A ceasefire and full adherence to the rules of war.

2) Additional entry points, supply routes and storage capacity in Gaza.

3) Better protection for aid convoys.

4) Free and safe movement of humanitarian supplies through checkpoints.

5) Road repairs and clearance of unexploded ordnance.

6) A bigger role for the commercial sector.

Thousands expected at London protest calling for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

Fifth major pro-Palestine rally of the year comes after government adviser warns against portraying protesters as extremist

Thousands of protesters are expected to gather again in central London to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the fifth major pro-Palestine demonstration in the capital so far this year.

Saturday’s protest comes a day after Dame Sara Khan, a UK government adviser on social cohesion, said attempts to portray protesters on pro-Palestinian marches as extremist were “outrageous” and dangerous.

Khan, who is carrying out a review of the resilience of the UK’s democracy for Michael Gove, said such claims risked further dividing the country.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said its latest march was due to begin at noon at Hyde Park Corner and would finish at the US embassy in Nine Elms.

The Metropolitan police has provided a map that attenders must follow to avoid being in breach of section 12 of the Public Order Act 2023. A section 14 condition is also in place that requires anyone who is participating in the PSC demo to assemble on the south side of Park Lane.

The force said the protest must end with the crowd dispersing by 5pm and “anyone who fails to comply with these conditions will be dealt with by officers”.

The Met commander Karen Findlay, who will oversee policing across London on Saturday, said: “To minimise the impact of the protest we have consistently used our full range of legal powers over the last five months to manage these protests, and we will be doing so again this weekend.

“We are clearly operating in a context where we understand our Jewish and Muslim communities continue to be highly concerned about antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crime and their own sense of safety in London.

“We recognise the very real anxiety and fear of individuals who are worried about perceived or actual threats they are subject to.”

Met officers will again be supported by colleagues from forces across the UK. The force said the protests since October had required 35,464 officer shifts and more than 5,200 officer rest days to be cancelled in addition to costs of £32.3m.

There is also a Million Women Rise demonstration in support of International Women’s Weekend in the capital on Saturday, which includes a rally at Trafalgar Square.

The former home secretary Suella Braverman has been condemned for describing the pro-Palestine demonstrations as “hate marches” and the government’s commissioner for counter-extremism, Robin Simcox, wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Friday that London had been “permitted to be turned into a no-go zone for Jews every weekend”.

Speaking to the Guardian, before Simcox’s comments were published, Khan said: “I think it’s really important that we don’t conflate those protesters, somehow saying or portraying them as somehow as being all extremists.

“What I’ve been really uncomfortable with over the last couple of weeks is the kind of argument that they’re all Islamist extremists on these demonstrations. I think that’s actually outrageous.

“Some are not even pro-Palestinian people, just anti-war.”

The Israeli offensive was launched after the 7 October Hamas attack, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Israeli strikes have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October, two-thirds of them women and children.

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France’s appetite for frogs’ legs is endangering species in Asia, say campaigners

Scientists and vets are urging the president to afford the world’s most traded species better protections

France’s hunger for frogs’ legs is “destructive to nature” and endangering amphibians in Asia and south-east Europe, a group of scientists and vets have warned.

More than 500 experts from research, veterinary and conservation groups have called on Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to “end the overexploitation of frogs” and afford the most traded species better protections.

The EU imports the equivalent of 80-200 million frogs each year, the majority of which are consumed in France. Most come from wild populations in Indonesia, Turkey and Albania, as well as from farms in Vietnam, according to a study by Robin des Bois and Pro Wildlife, two conservation nonprofits that organised the letter.

The practice is “not at all in line” with the EU’s wildlife strategy, said Sandra Altherr, the head of science at Pro Wildlife. “It’s absurd: the natural frog populations here in Europe are protected under EU law. But the EU still tolerates the collection of millions of animals in other countries – even if this threatens the frog populations there.”

More frogs’ legs are eaten in France – often fried in batter or sautéed with garlic and parsley – than in any other country in the EU. The scientists argue that France should push to secure global protections for vulnerable frog species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which works to stop the illegal trade in plants and animals.

A group of 46 environment NGOs made a similar request of the French environment ministry in February.

Studies suggest that some frog species are already suffering. The fanged river frog (Limnonectes macrodon) has apparently disappeared from commercial imports to France, according to the letter to Macron, while two more common species – the crab-eating frog (Fejervarya cancrivora) and rice-field frog (Fejervarya limnocharis) – have been in decline due to intense commercial harvests for many years.

Frogs also play important roles in ecosystems and on farms. Tadpoles can improve water quality in ponds and frogs can help farmers use fewer pesticides. They could also help keep infectious disease at bay by eating mosquitoes.

Alain Moussu, the president of the Vétérinaires pour la Biodiversité, a third group that organised the letter, said veterinarians have joined the initiative in large numbers. “They are both sensitive to the cruelty that prevails in this market and concerned about the ecological imbalances caused by the collapse of amphibian populations,” he said.

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US government avoids shutdown after Senate approves $460bn in spending

Vote gets lawmakers about halfway home in wrapping up their appropriations work for the 2024 budget year

The US government has narrowly avoided a partial shutdown after senators approved a $460bn package of spending bills before a midnight deadline that would have shuttered many key federal agencies.

The Senate approved the six funding bills, which passed the House on Wednesday in a bipartisan vote of 339-85, on Friday evening, a vote that gets lawmakers about halfway home in wrapping up their appropriations work for the 2024 budget year.

The package now goes to Joe Biden to be signed into law. Meanwhile, lawmakers are negotiating a second package of six bills, including defense, in an effort to have all federal agencies fully funded by a 22 March deadline.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 75-22, as the chamber labored to get to a final vote just hours before the midnight deadline.

“To folks who worry that divided government means nothing ever gets done, this bipartisan package says otherwise,” said the senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.

He said the bill’s passage would allow for the hiring of more air traffic controllers and rail safety inspectors, give federal firefighters a raise and boost support for unhoused veterans, among other things.

Had the shutdown taken effect, funding would have been paused at midnight for the departments of agriculture, commerce, energy, housing and urban development, the interior, justice, transportation and veterans affairs.

A similar short-term shutdown occurred in 2018, and it had little impact on government agencies because it concluded after under six hours.

Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate appropriations committee, took to the Senate floor on Friday to urge her colleagues to support the bills and prevent a shutdown.

“Do we really want a veteran who has bravely and loyally served his country, and is now trying to file a claim for benefits, to find that the Veterans Benefits Administration’s doors are closed to him or her? Is that what we want to have happen?” Collins said. “Why in the world would we want to shut down government and stop serving the American people?”

Collins noted that each of the six bills had been carefully considered by the appropriations committee, so she dismissed some of her colleagues’ complaints that they had not undergone an amendment process.

“I would urge my colleagues to stop playing with fire here. The House, controlled by Republicans, passed these bills as a package – the six bills – with a very strong, bipartisan vote, with the majority of the majority voting for them,” Collins said.

“It would be irresponsible for us not to clear these bills and do the fundamental job that we have of funding government. What is more important?”

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Bus to undergo engineering investigation after woman killed in Brisbane city crash

Bus mounted a kerb and pinned the 18-year-old against wall near one of the city’s busiest intersections during peak hour

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Authorities have pledged to find answers after an 18-year-old woman died when she was pinned between a bus and a building in Brisbane’s city centre on Friday evening.

And authorities have said the bus involved in the crash underwent routine testing last month, and will now undergo an engineering investigation to ensure there were no mechanical failures.

Emergency services were called following reports of a serious crash on Edward Street involving a bus hitting a pedestrian about 5pm on Friday.

The bus had mounted the kerb and pinned the woman against a wall near one of the city’s busiest intersections during peak hour.

The woman suffered life-threatening injuries and died at the scene.

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Paramedics assessed nine passengers on the bus and transported five, including the driver, to hospital with minor injuries.

Brisbane lord mayor, Adrian Schrinner, said the forensic crash unit would undertake a thorough investigation, including scouring footage from the bus and traffic cameras.

“I want to assure the people of Brisbane we will find answers,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday.

“I want the people of Brisbane to know, and I want particularly the family of this young woman to know, that Brisbane is a city that is with you now.”

The bus driver would not operate any council buses while the crash was under investigation, Schrinner said.

He urged the public not to speculate on the reasons for the crash.

“That will be determined – we will have those answers,” he said.

Council’s Transport for Brisbane divisional manager, Samantha Abeydeera, said the bus’s brakes were tested in February.

She said she believed council’s fleet was “very safe”.

“There was a routine 10,000 kilometre testing of the bus last month and now the vehicle will actually go through engineering investigation to ensure there were no mechanical failures,” she said.

“We are convinced that we have a very safe fleet, very safe operators … we absolutely take the duty to the city very seriously.”

Abeydeera said the bus driver had a safe driving history.

“The bus driver has been operating with us for decades,” she said.

“[They are] a very experienced driver, with a strong performance record.”

People working in the area described their shock as some left flowers at the scene.

“I walk the street almost every day … I took the bus this morning and definitely sat there and pondered over things,” Minh Phan, the owner of a nearby beauty salon, told ABC News.

“I feel very sorry for the family.”

Schrinner described the incident as a truly devastating and heartbreaking scenario.

“It was a Friday night – people thinking about what they were doing for the weekend, finishing up work … this is not something that anyone would anticipate happening,” he said.

“Walking on a busy street and seeing this tragedy, it touches us all, because it could have been anybody.”

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RNC: Trump coup complete with loyalist as chair and daughter-in-law as co-chair

Michael Whatley of North Carolina has been voted the Republican National Committee chair, with Lara Trump as co-chair

The Republican National Committee voted on Friday to install Donald Trump’s handpicked leadership team, completing his takeover of the national party as the former president closes in on a third straight presidential nomination.

Michael Whatley, a North Carolina Republican who has echoed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, was elected as the party’s national chair in a vote Friday morning in Houston.

Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, was voted in as co-chair.

Trump’s team is promising not to use the RNC to pay his mounting personal legal bills. But Trump and his lieutenants will have firm control of the party’s political and fundraising machinery with limited, if any, internal pushback.

“The RNC is going to be the vanguard of a movement that will work tirelessly every single day to elect our nominee, Donald J Trump, as the 47th president of the United States,” Whatley told RNC members in a speech after being elected.

Whatley will carry the top title, replacing the longtime chair Ronna McDaniel after she fell out of favor with key figures in the former president’s Make America Great Again movement. But he will be surrounded by people closer to Trump.

Lara Trump is expected to focus largely on fundraising and media appearances, which she emphasized shortly after being voted in, taking time in her inaugural speech to hold up a check for $100,000 that she said had been contributed that day to the party. When asked by a reporter later, she declined to say who wrote the check.

The functional head of the RNC will be Chris LaCivita, who will assume the committee’s chief of staff role while maintaining his job as one of the Trump campaign’s top two advisers.

McDaniel had been handpicked by Trump to lead the committee seven years ago but was forced out after Trump’s Maga movement increasingly blamed her for losses over the last few years.

While she got a standing ovation after her goodbye, the new leadership appeared to eagerly embrace the change. Lara Trump, accompanied by her husband, Eric Trump, was greeted like a celebrity, with members lining up to take photos with her.

With Trump’s blessing, LaCivita is promising to enact sweeping changes and staffing moves at every level of the RNC to ensure it runs seamlessly as an extension of the Trump campaign.

In an interview on Thursday, LaCivita sought to tamp down concerns from some RNC members that the already cash-strapped committee would help pay Trump’s legal bills. Trump faces four criminal indictments and a total of 91 counts as well as a $355m civil fraud judgment, which he is appealing. His affiliated Save America political action committee has spent $76m over the last two years on lawyers.

People speculating about the RNC paying for legal bills, LaCivita said, do so “purely on the basis of trying to hurt donors”. Trump’s legal bills are being covered largely by Save America, which is a separate political entity.

The new leadership team is expected to more fully embrace Trump’s focus on voter fraud and his debunked claims about the election he lost to Joe Biden. Multiple court cases and Trump’s own justice department failed to reveal any evidence of significant voting irregularities.

Whatley, an attorney, has largely avoided using Trump’s characterization of Biden’s victory and said in one 2021 interview that Biden “absolutely” had been legitimately elected and had won the majority of the electoral college votes. But he said in another interview in the weeks after the 2020 election that there had been “massive fraud”. He has also made focusing on “election integrity” a top priority for his state party in the years since.

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