The Guardian 2024-03-15 16:01:33


Palestinians who had Australian visas cancelled mid-flight are ‘collateral damage’, charity group says

At least 70 people have had to cancel or postpone travel while one man remains stuck in an Istanbul airport

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Palestinians fleeing Gaza with valid Australian visas only for them to be cancelled mid-flight or at airports have been described as “collateral damage” for the federal government’s failures.

One charity group helping Palestinians to leave the war zone, the Palestine Australia Relief and Action (Para) group, said it has already had to cancel or postpone the upcoming flights of at least 70 people, including sick and elderly, and is frustrated by the lack of clarity.

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Rasha Abbas, Para’s executive director, also holds grave concerns for one 23-year-old man, who remains stuck in an airport in Istanbul after his visa was cancelled while he was en route to Australia. He cannot return to Egypt or leave the airport in Turkey without a valid visa.

Abbas said the Albanese government must act urgently to rescue the man, who has serious health issues, “before it becomes an international headline that’s so embarrassing for Australia”.

The Albanese government began suspending visas this week to investigate how some visa-holders were able to leave “without explanation”. Palestinians must be approved by both the Israeli and Egyptian authorities to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

About 1.5 million people are believed to be in the southern Gazan city after being displaced by Israeli forces as it began air and ground assaults in the territory’s north. The bottleneck of Palestinians who hope to leave the besieged territory has resulted in some paying unofficial brokers to make the journey. It is understood those who have resorted to such services have raised flags with the Australian authorities.

A spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, told Guardian Australia on Friday it made “no apology for doing everything necessary to maintain our national security”.

“If people make it out of Gaza without explanation, or their circumstances change in any meaningful way, we will take the time to understand those changes before proceeding,” the spokesperson said.

But Palestinians stuck in the region have become increasingly desperate as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to move forward with his ground invasion of Rafah.

Mohammed Almassri’s sister-in-law used brokers to get her four children into Egypt from Gaza, where they have been stuck for a month.

The 43-year-old from Punchbowl, New South Wales, said he had urged his sister-in-law to fly to Australia as soon as possible after seeing the news of visas being cancelled in recent days. They bought flights and checked their visas were still active before leaving for the airport on Wednesday.

At the airport, they were told their visas were no longer valid.

“They can’t go back to Gaza, and they can’t leave Egypt. They have to wait in Cairo until we see how the situation is going. We don’t know what is happening. It really is very depressing,” he said.

“They are heartbroken because they are waiting a long time, they started dreaming they would come here, start new lives, new future and suddenly, nothing.

“We are Australian citizens. We are safe here and everyday we lose people in Palestine. Why, if you want to cancel the visas, why do you give it to them from the beginning? Don’t give them visas and cancel them, this will make more depression.”

The department said its reason for cancelling the visa on Wednesday was that they “never intended a genuine stay temporarily in Australia”.

Abbas said she has been trying to get clarity from the minister’s office for days but her attempts so far had been met with silence. She described the series of events as a “process failure” and the Palestinian families affected as “collateral damage”.

“I have a mum and dad in their late 60s that had an accident once they left the Rafah border, and they had to be hospitalised and the daughter is so upset,” she said.

“I had them booked on the 21st [of March] and another three with massive health issues and trauma on the 21st as well. I have had to cancel all those flights.”

Abbas said with no consular support on the ground in Rafah, those with valid visas trying to leave had few options available.

“The best thing the government can do if it wants to control the process is provide consular support,” she said.

“You have issued the visas, you understand that they are immediate and close relatives of Australian citizens. Support their exit.”

More than 2,000 visas have been issued to Palestinians since the conflict began in October last year but fewer than 400 have arrived in Australia in that period.

A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed brokers are making thousands of dollars in fees from desperate Palestinians who are trying to exit the territory through the Egyptian border crossing in Rafah.

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The US needs to see a clear and implementable plan in Rafah, including how to get civilians out of harm’s way, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Friday, Reuters reports.

Blinken, whose comments came after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it approved plans for a Rafah invasion, also told reporters that the US has not yet seen such plans.

Blinken added that the US will work as long and hard as it takes to get a plan for Rafah implemented.

There are over a million Palestinians sheltering in the southern city of Rafah as Israeli forces have killed over 30,000 Palestinians across the strip in the last five months.

Australia to investigate how Palestinians crossed Gaza border after government suspends visas

Home affairs seeking to clarify how some Palestinians crossed from Gaza into Egypt ‘without explanation’

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Australia is suspending the visas of Palestinians fleeing Gaza while it investigates how they managed to cross the border into Egypt.

A number of Palestinians learned their visas had been cancelled while en route to Australia earlier this week with no immediate explanation from the home affairs department.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, confirmed the government was investigating the way in which some visa holders exited Gaza.

“If people make it out of Gaza without explanation, or their circumstances change in any meaningful way, we will take the time to understand those changes before proceeding,” the spokesperson said.

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“We have made a strong commitment to assisting people who are trying to leave Gaza. But we make no apology for doing everything necessary to maintain our national security.”

The comments expand on the response provided from a spokesperson on Thursday, noting “all visa applicants undergo security checks and are subject to ongoing security assessments” and that the Australian government “reserves the right to cancel any issued visas if circumstances change”.

More than 2,000 visas have been issued to Palestinians since the conflict began in October last year but fewer than 400 have arrived in Australia in that period.

Official exit points from Gaza are limited due to the number of people attempting to leave Palestine through Rafah. Palestinians must have approval from both Israeli and Egyptian authorities to exit the besieged territory. A number have resorted to using unofficial brokers to make the journey, which is understood to have raised flags with the Australian authorities.

Guardian Australia understands those who received a visa cancellation notice on their journey can re-apply or appeal against the decision. Security agencies are understood to be undertaking additional checks to ensure the avenues taken to exit the war zone don’t affect Australia’s national security.

Much of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people are now located in the territory’s southern city after moving south when Israeli forces began air and ground assaults in the territory’s north.

Palestinians in the area are growing increasingly desperate to leave as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to move forward with his ground invasion of Rafah, which he has described as the “last Hamas stronghold”.

The Australian federal government has previously said it is “extremely limited” in its ability to offer help to those stuck in Gaza.

Many of the visas issued so far to Palestinians are for visiting purposes, meaning the recipients can not work or access Australian healthcare, and last for up to 12 months.

Groups involved with supporting Palestinians desperately trying to flee the conflict say the foreign affairs department advised them to apply for the subclass 600 visa.

On Tuesday, Samah Sabawi, the co-founder of Palestine Australia Research Action, claimed Palestinians in Cairo with valid visas had tried to get on flights to Australia but were informed their visas had been cancelled.

Sabawi’s group has been organising flights to Australia for those who have managed to cross the border into Egypt.

Sabawi said the visa holders were told their visas had been cancelled because they did not “intend for their visit to be temporary”.

“The reason given is disingenuous dishonest and callous: that Aus doesn’t think they intend for their visit to be temporary,” she said on X/Twitter.

“We are devastated beyond imagining. Trying to pick up the pieces of the mess your government is leaving behind.”

The opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, criticised the Albanese government for creating “endless chaos” around the issuing of the visas.

“We have been critical all along of the speed with which visas appear to have been given, and questioned whether appropriate security checks could have been undertaken on individuals coming out of Gaza,” he said on Friday.

“Australia needs to be making sure that we are not importing potential terrorist sympathisers into this country.”

The head of Asio, Mike Burgess, told Guardian Australia in March his agency had not been pressured by the government to speed up the security checks of anyone applying for visas from Gaza.

“If we have grounds to say that we are going to impact [an] individual, we have to have the evidence and that’s subject to a rigorous assessment. It can’t just be, ‘I feel … there’s a bit of doubt, so we’ll do it.’ We don’t work that way.”

A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed brokers are making thousands of dollars in fees from desperate Palestinians who are trying to exit the territory through the Egyptian border crossing in Rafah.

Additional reporting by Daniel Hurst

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Israeli forces kill 20 Palestinians waiting for aid, Gaza health ministry says

Israeli military denies reports after officials say eight people killed in separate strike on aid distribution centre

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Gaza’s health ministry has said Israeli fire killed 20 people waiting to receive desperately needed aid in the besieged Palestinian territory, but the Israeli military said the reports were “erroneous”.

Gaza officials said the attack occurred as a crowd gathered to receive aid from a truck at the Kuwait roundabout, a key interchange used by humanitarian convoys carrying food into northern Gaza. More than 150 people were wounded, they added.

The latest incident came hours after eight people were killed in an airstrike on an aid distribution centre at al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, health officials said.

In a statement, Israel’s military denied attacking aid distribution points and described the reports as “false”, though it was not immediately clear which incident it was referring to.

“As the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] assesses the incident with the thoroughness that it deserves, we urge the media to do the same and only rely on credible information,” the statement said.

The Gaza conflict has displaced most of the territory’s 2.3 million people, and there have been chaotic scenes and deadly incidents during aid distributions in recent weeks.

Regarding the Kuwait roundabout incident, Mohammed Ghurab, the director of emergency services at a hospital in northern Gaza, said there were “direct shots by the occupation forces” on people waiting for a food truck.

An Agence France-Presse journalist on the scene said they saw several bodies and people who had been shot.

Aid agencies in recent days have sought to vary the routes for convoys to avoid large numbers of people gathering and potentially stopping the vehicles.

“The problem is there are very few routes to take and all are very difficult to travel on – there have been tanks driving up and down them for months and they are basically just strips of rubble now – so people can predict where the trucks are going to be,” said an NGO official in Gaza, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The UN has warned of famine in Gaza, which Israel has besieged since the start of the war on 7 October after Hamas’s unprecedented attack.

The humanitarian emergency has prompted some countries to diversify aid supply routes, including by aird and sea, as land access to Gaza via Jordan, Israel and Egypt remains limited.

On Friday, a Spanish aid ship sailed close to the Gaza coast, a first voyage to test what is hoped will become a maritime corridor from Cyprus.

Hamas has presented a renewed Gaza ceasefire proposal to mediators and the US which includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners. The office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the new Hamas position was based on “unrealistic demands”.

Mediators, including Qatar, Egypt and the US, had hoped to conclude a deal before Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which began on Monday. In Jerusalem, authorities have deployed thousands of police around the Old City for Friday prayers.

The war was triggered when Hamas launched a surprise attack into southern Israel in October, killing about 1,200, mostly civilians. The militant Islamist organisation seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes about 130 of the captives remain in Gaza and that 32 of them are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign of bombardment and ground operations in Gaza to destroy Hamas has killed at least 31,341 people, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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Make Australia afraid again: must we have our own Trump moment for Peter Dutton to become PM?

Lech Blaine

In a new Quarterly Essay, Lech Blaine profiles the leader of the opposition. In this extract he considers the former Queensland policeman’s chances of getting the top job

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Those addicted to the news cycle often forget how passionately apathetic most Australian voters are about politics. As a result, Peter Dutton’s relatively small cliques of leftwing decriers and rightwing admirers overestimate how vividly the intricacies of his controversial career have registered with the general public. “I know fuck-all about him, mate,” says Mark, 44, a loyal LNP voter. “Seems pretty boring. I miss ScoMo. He had a personality.”

Mark is a tradie in outer-suburban Brisbane, with a Southern Cross tattoo and zero pity for boat people. Dutton should be right up his alley. But Mark doesn’t know him from the proverbial bar of soap. Nor do most of the people you ask who don’t pay all that much attention to politics. “I know of him,” says Sam, 29, a Lebanese-Australian Uber driver from Western Sydney. “But I don’t know him. He can’t be worse than ScoMo, bro.”

Disengaged voters occasionally see Dutton’s unsmiling face on the 6pm news, or hear his unpoetic monotone on radio news bulletins. They were never going to fall in love with him at first sight or soundbite. They certainly don’t see him as Australia’s saviour, as does shock jock Ray Hadley. But they don’t hate him in the way that his foes pray. “Dutton was a cop, wasn’t he?” asks Karen, 69, a Labor voter in the seat of Macquarie. “At least he had a real job. He’s not a career politician.”

When Dutton became the opposition leader, lefties were elated and complacent. Australia had too many feminists; too many migrants; too many millennial renters for Dutton to win an election. Labor MPs told Albanese to go easy on Dutton, fearing that he might get knifed before they could benefit. The consensus? Dutton was unelectable. Much like John Howard, and Tony Abbott. And indeed, Albanese himself.

“The chattering classes thought that Dutton was great for Labor,” says Cheryl Kernot, the former Democrats leader turned Labor MP, whom Dutton defeated for the seat of Dickson in 2001. “I think they’re wrong. He reminds me of John Howard. Rat cunning. Hide of a rhino.”

A Coalition unshackled from the electoral pragmatism of regaining Wentworth and Kooyong might seem easier to beat in the short term. But Dutton doesn’t need to become prime minister to redraw the battlelines of Australian politics. His fight with Albanese over the suburbs and regions was always going to drag the political conversation rightwards: on race, immigration, gender and the pace of a transition away from fossil fuels. And in the seats that matter to Dutton, Labor is vulnerable to attack. “I’m not the prettiest bloke on the block,” he said, after Labor’s Tanya Plibersek compared his appearance to Voldemort “but I hope I’m going to be pretty effective”.

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Dutton’s aim is to mercilessly disturb Albanese’s peacekeeping mission. To enflame the suspicion among swinging voters that Labor is more worried about delivering do-gooder platitudes than lowering their electricity bills, and more worried about social equality than the cost of living. To reframe Labor’s centrist agenda as a betrayal of the Australian way of life. Dutton’s raison d’être? Make Australia afraid again. Then he will offer himself as the lesser of two evils. A serious strongman for the age of anxiety.

Some Liberals worry that gung-ho Dutton lacks the soft touch required to rebuild John Howard’s broad church. He is popular with “the base”. But not so much with female professionals. Liberal MP Bridget Archer, from Tasmania, feels marginalised with fewer moderates around. “When I go to Canberra and sit in the party room with Peter Dutton, Tony Pasin and Alex Antic, I think: who are these people?’”

Archer claims that her views haven’t changed: the party itself is shifting to the right. “The Liberal party has become One Nation lite,” she tells me.


For Peter Dutton to succeed without the traditional blue-ribbon Liberal seats, he would need Australia to have its own Trump moment. But he would also need that electoral rebellion against the “elites” to occur in outer-metropolitan and provincial seats, not within the rural ones already overwhelmingly held by the Coalition.

“Conservatives believe that there is a pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow in outer-suburban Sydney and Melbourne,” an ex-Liberal MP who lost to a “teal” tells me. “It doesn’t exist. I think it will take the poison pill of repeated election defeats to generate serious change.”

Former Queensland Liberal MP Wyatt Roy, meanwhile, differs from Dutton on some things, but likes him on a personal level. “I think people underestimate Peter,” Roy tells me. “He is very electable. Tony Abbott was prime minister. That was in 2013, not 30 years ago. And Dutton is a much more pragmatic and formidable politician than Abbott.”

Colleagues – past and present – paint a more thoughtful portrait of Dutton. To them, he is a listener, not a big-noter. A gentleman, not a sleazebag. A team player, willing to do the dirty work unpalatable to moderates. He rarely loses his temper, even during heated debates. Disciplined, risk-averse and across the details. Character traits totally at odds with the public image of a chest-beating populist. “Peter has a lot of good personal qualities that other people in the recent past haven’t had,” Liberal senator Andrew Bragg – a moderate from Sydney – tells me. “You might not always agree on an issue. But there’s no sociopathic behaviour going on.”

This other Dutton is often dismissed as a Liberal PR campaign to rehabilitate a new leader with baggage. But there are many non-Liberals with nothing to gain who say it too. “Abbott was an incredibly eccentric human being,” a senior Labor minister tells me. “Morrison was unhealthily self-obsessed. Dutton isn’t either of those things. He is more grounded in reality.”

How does the private Dutton square with the public Dutton? It doesn’t, and it does. There is a method to the venom. Dutton is prepared to hurt certain groups of people to defend others. Being hated by complete strangers is the cost of winning. And beating Labor is more important than popularity. “You dirty lefties are too easy,” Dutton tweeted in 2011.

Dutton’s list of political hit jobs is arguably far more offensive than Abbott’s. But they served a calculated purpose. Abbott just had foot-in-mouth disease. The mad monk’s Holy Trinity – Jesus, the Queen and the ovaries of Australian women – was too idiosyncratic. Dutton’s fixations – crime, race and national security – are timeless political issues. Under the right circumstances, his lack of compassion and charisma might be irrelevant. “People never spoke about John Howard’s charisma,” said Dutton in 2017. “At many times during John Howard’s career, he was deeply unpopular.”

Dutton is imitating Howard. But this is a more reactionary conservatism, with much less emphasis on economics and much less subtlety on race relations. He swapped Howard’s dog whistle for a foghorn. Love him or loathe him, Howard was the master of understatement. He worried Australians in one breath and comforted them in the next.

“Peter is not remotely in the same league as John Howard,” Malcolm Turnbull tells me. “Even his best friend wouldn’t compare them.”

There has been no ongoing attempt by Dutton to redefine himself the way that Howard did throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Howard wanted to rearrange the way that people related to money and to the country. In the meantime, he provided support for Keating’s economic reforms. Howard failed, and adjusted, and won. Through trial and error, he learned how to package his individualistic vision as part of a patriotic narrative.

Dutton is the paperback version of Howard: the same message but less weight. Economics is not his emotional priority, beyond a tribal allegiance to tax loopholes for the rich; penalties for the poor; and hostility to trade unions. This is why he spends most of the time fighting culture wars. His grievances are well practised and sincerely held. But the moment he moves off his preferred turf, Dutton becomes clumsy and unconvincing.

“Peter is not an original thinker,” says Turnbull. “I cannot recall him ever having a positive idea in the times when I was with him in government.”

Dutton is the anti-ideas man. Uncreative, perhaps. But this does give him an incredible clarity as a politician. The opposition leader is playing Whac-A-Mole against Labor. He is banking on history to keep repeating itself. And that he can smash the agents of change with the cat-like reflexes of Pat Rafter.

One moderate who doesn’t underestimate Dutton is former Liberal party attorney general George Brandis, an old factional foe also from Queensland. He retired from politics after losing a furious power struggle with Dutton over the Home Affairs portfolio. Brandis suggests that Dutton’s “slightly slow voice” and lack of intellectual flair lulled Turnbull into a false sense of security. “I think Dutton has taken a while to live down this ‘he’s just a copper from Queensland’ image,” says Brandis. “Well, he was a police officer. He is from Queensland. That doesn’t make him dumb. And he isn’t.”

Brandis puts Dutton in a separate category from Abbott on the Liberal party side, and from Julia Gillard and Albanese on the Labor side. He believes they would have been satisfied with being a senior government minister. The prime ministership was a nice prize but not their sole priority.

Brandis views Dutton more in the mould of Howard, Turnbull and Kevin Rudd: politicians consumed with desire for the top job from the minute they entered parliament. “The thing about Peter … is he’s very ambitious,” says Brandis. “He really, really badly wants to be prime minister. He’s very purposeful. Very methodical. And very strategic.”

Dutton is a conundrum then. A power-hungry strongman who isn’t a clinical narcissist. A shrewd establishment politician who brazenly plays the race card. Seemingly extreme. Yet every single thing that he does is calculated to achieve his dream of becoming prime minister. It is not totally impossible he will get there one day.

This is an edited extract of Lech Blaine’s Quarterly Essay Bad Cop: Peter Dutton’s Strongman Politics published Monday 18 March. He will discuss the essay at nationwide events.

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‘Family connections’: mafia, the fruit and veg trade, and a fatal shooting in suburban Melbourne

Calabrian-Australian families like that of John Latorre, who was killed this week, are synonymous with the fresh produce sector – but some have connections to the ’Ndrangheta too

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For decades, the Latorre family has grown produce in the fertile soils of Victoria’s Goulburn Valley. From the paddocks outside Shepparton, this produce eventually makes its way to wholesale markets in Melbourne.

As a result, John Latorre regularly woke before sunrise in the outer suburb of Greenvale to get to the markets.

But on Tuesday, as he walked out of his home at about 4.30am, the 64-year-old was shot dead in a killing with possible links to Italian organised crime.

“He was a man known to Victoria Police,” Det Sen Sgt Danny Travaglini told reporters at the scene.

“If there are links to organised crime, there’s always the potential of retaliation and that’s where Victoria Police approach such investigations as a high priority … we will do whatever we possibly can to ensure there’s no retaliation.”

In the century since Calabrian families with links to the mafia, or ’Ndrangheta, first arrived in Australia, much has changed about how organised crime operates in the country. But Calabrian-Australian families are still synonymous with the fruit and vegetable trade.

And the only thing more valuable to the ’Ndrangheta than family is silence.

Latorre did not seem a significant player in the ’Ndrangheta, according to Prof Anna Sergi, a leading expert on the group – which makes the motive for his killing – if it is indeed linked to the ’Ndrangheta – all the more puzzling.

“Killing him wouldn’t bother the big guys, but at the same time for some reason he was worth killing,” says Sergi, a professor at the University of Essex.

Sergi says there are three reasons why the ’Ndrangheta kill: for revenge, for performative reasons, and for preventive reasons – to stop someone from doing something.

The rate of these killings has slowed considerably since a high point in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The ’Ndrangheta don’t kill unless they have to, so this is a very bold move,” Sergi says.

“The ’Ndrangheta is now in a very evolved state in Australia. They don’t need the killing like they used to. Killing is for very big things, when you need to make a big scene, or demonstrate power.”

There has also been speculation about an impending changing of the guard in Australia, which could be linked to the killing, Sergi says.

A penchant for symbolism

In Australia, the ’Ndrangheta is suspected to effectively be run by a committee of older men with links – by family or marriage – to the Calabrian towns that remain strongholds of the group.

It has a presence in every capital city and strongholds in multiple regional towns, none more so than Griffith.

There is a curious aspect to the murder, which would be overlooked as coincidence were it not for the penchant for symbolism by the ’Ndrangheta.

Of the few victims with links to the ’Ndrangheta killed in the past decade, one who was known to Latorre was also slain in Melbourne on the Tuesday immediately after Victoria’s Labour Day public holiday.

Another curiosity, according to Sergi, is that regional areas such as Shepparton and Mildura with enduring ’Ndrangheta connections have increased in importance to the organisation since the pandemic.

A relative who answered the phone at a Shepparton property owned by the Latorre family declined to comment.

“No, I’m not talking to you, we’re just too distraught,” she said, before hanging up.

Rocco Grillo, Latorre’s brother-in-law and business partner in Latorre’s Fruit and Vegetable Wholesalers, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Latorre family are not referred to in a classified 2003 intelligence report, seen by Guardian Australia, outlining the extent of ’Ndrangheta operations in the country.

This is despite John’s brother, Vincent Latorre, being considered a suspect in the 1991 murder of Rocco Iaria at the time the report was completed.

Iaria and Vincent Latorre had been charged over an alleged burglary where $500,000 in cash and property was stolen from a wealthy market gardener near Bendigo.

Iaria disappeared before trial, and Latorre was acquitted.

In 1998, when the grave of an elderly woman at a Shepparton cemetery was excavated so her husband could be buried with her, Iaria’s body was found inside.

His body had been wrapped in plastic and doused in lime. Latorre, Vincent Latorre, and two other brothers, Mario and Frank, refused to give evidence at a 2006 inquest into Iaria’s death, according to reports at the time, saying they did not wish to incriminate themselves.

Coroner Paresa Spanos later found Vincent Latorre either killed Iaria or ordered his death, probably because it would ensure his acquittal on the robbery charges.

The Latorres are also not mentioned in the intelligence report despite Vincent Latorre being suspected of standing over other families involved in the fresh produce industry about the time the report was completed. He was found guilty of these charges in 2009 but has maintained he did not harm Iaria.

Vincent Latorre could not be reached for comment.

But the report, completed by the former National Crime Authority after reviewing the intelligence of state police forces and the Australian Federal Police, does mention enduring links between the ’Ndrangheta and the fresh produce trade.

“Italo-Australians still play a highly significant role in the fruit and vegetable wholesale trade through the markets,” it said.

“These markets continue to provide controlled linkages to the [freight] industry.

“Elements of the transport infrastructure are controlled by families with connections to IOC [Italian Organised Crime] … [and] there is continuing intelligence of the exploitation of this … freight for trafficking illicit commodities.”

The report found families had a diminishing importance in Italian organised crime but remained central to operations.

“The geographic spread and connectivity of Italo-Australian organised crime demonstrates that there exists a series of separate but interconnected sociocultural and socioeconomic networks that extend across Australia,” it says.

“Decisions appear to be made on an ad-hoc basis with family occasions such as weddings being used to mediate conflict and reach consensus.”

Appeal for dashcam footage

Dr Adam Masters, an Australian National University criminologist, says it is important to note that the vast majority of Australians with Calabrian heritage have nothing to do with the ’Ndrangheta.

“Even with the families where it might seem there’s entrenched criminality, you’re talking six to 10 members in a family of more than 200 people,” he says.

On Friday, the homicide squad confirmed it continued to investigate links to organised crime groups, and appealed for dashcam footage from anyone driving near the scene between 2am and 6am on 12 March.

“This shooting was particularly concerning for police given it occurred in such a publicly violent manner,” Det Sen Sgt Travaglini said on Friday.

“We are doing everything we can to find those involved and hopefully the right piece of dashcam footage could give us a breakthrough.”

Detectives will also be investigating if Latorre’s family history and routine of travelling to the markets before dawn most days contributed to his death.

According to comments he made to a trade magazine in 2017 after his business won an industry award, Latorre was proud of both.

“It is the strength of our family connections and seven days a week hard work that has built this business,” he said.

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Analysis

Farmers paid too little, shoppers charged too much – it’s a win-win for Australia’s supermarkets

Jonathan Barrett

Coles and Woolworths leverage their dominant position over smaller suppliers and consumers alike – and both groups are getting angry

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Farmers are pressuring supermarkets to raise produce prices, and shoppers want shelf prices lowered. Can both win?

As inflation eases, supermarkets would typically lean on suppliers to cut prices, with some of those savings passed on to frustrated shoppers to dissuade them from buying less or switching grocery stores in search of a better deal.

But in a period marked by a Senate inquiry and year-long pricing investigation by the competition regulator, every major supermarket pricing decision is being scrutinised, making any attempt to reduce prices paid to farmers a potential flashpoint for legislative reform.

During the first public Senate hearing held in Hobart, farming groups made the committee aware that a major supermarket was trying to fund a promotional fruit campaign by cutting prices for growers, sparking criticism.

Supermarkets have fiercely protected their margins, the chief gauge of profitability, throughout the pandemic and inflationary period, by more than offsetting increased costs with higher prices.

Coles is slightly more profitable than it was before the pandemic, while Woolworths is significantly more profitable. Combined, the two chains control two-thirds of the market, representing a much more concentrated sector than in most comparable economies.

Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable growers have told the Senate inquiry the industry is collapsing, while households also grapple with a severe increase in the cost of food.

Sanjoy Paul, an associate professor in the UTS Business School who works on supply chain risk, says supermarkets are leveraging their dominant position over those with the least negotiating power.

“Giant supermarkets have different strategies for different types of suppliers,” he says.

“There is a big mismatch between supermarkets and small farmers.

“They have strong negotiating powers over farmers, but when they deal with big food manufacturers, the relationship is different.”

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While fruit and vegetable growers have reported widespread financial pressure, some of the world’s biggest packaged food makers which also supply to supermarkets have increased profit margins.

The American cereal maker WK Kellogg has enjoyed a 17% lift in its share price since the start of the year after raising prices for well-known products such as Corn Flakes and Froot Loops.

Other multinational food companies such as Kraft Heinz and Mondelez, owner of Cadbury, have also disclosed in financial results they have increased prices to retain or bolster margins.

The perishable nature of fruit and vegetables, compared with the longer shelf life of packaged goods, means growers often have to accept a low offer or risk a wasted crop.

As the Senate inquiry was told: “Baby spinach is only baby spinach for a day or two.”

Many parts of Australia’s agricultural sector also lack significant size or cooperatives that could better negotiate with the major supermarkets.

The inquiry’s committee members have been discussing how reforms could help level the playing field, including mechanisms to increase competition, which would also give farmers more ability to reject poor offers.

Paul says it is possible for both farmers and shoppers to win, although the margin would need to come from somewhere.

This could entail the supermarkets getting a better deal from multinationals, improving productivity or accepting narrower profit margins, rather than leaning on the parts of the market with the least ability to negotiate – smaller farmers and shoppers.

Paul says: “Supermarkets say they are improving their operations, then why not pass on those savings?

“They need to really justify and provide transparency in terms of pricing decisions.”

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, Woolworths said it was aware of its responsibilities at the “front end” of the fresh food sector.

“As such we are very mindful of our responsibility to balance providing value for our customers, paying our suppliers fairly for the goods they supply to us, providing security and meaningful employment for our team and delivering adequate returns for our shareholders,” Woolworths said.

In its submission, Coles said it paid $32.3bn to more than 8,000 suppliers and service partners last year.

“A key driver of supermarket price increases has been cost price increase requests from our suppliers and farmers,” Coles said.

Without reforms, fresh food suppliers will probably continue to find themselves under pressure from major retailers.

Bronwyn Thompson, a sales strategist who has worked for major household brands, says supermarkets view their fresh food sections as a growth area as they try to entice shoppers away from speciality sellers and farmers’ markets.

She says the power imbalance between fresh produce suppliers and the supermarkets can be huge, and that the big retailers will always try to extract the best prices out of that sector.

This focus on pricing, and of rejecting produce with slight blemishes, has prompted fruit and vegetable farmers to warn there will be no family farms left within a decade as corporate farms take over.

“The place that’s going to be the battleground of visible pricing is always going to be that fresh area,” Thompson says.

“If you get people in to buy fresh produce, then you’ve got them shopping in the rest of the store.”

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Analysis

Farmers paid too little, shoppers charged too much – it’s a win-win for Australia’s supermarkets

Jonathan Barrett

Coles and Woolworths leverage their dominant position over smaller suppliers and consumers alike – and both groups are getting angry

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Farmers are pressuring supermarkets to raise produce prices, and shoppers want shelf prices lowered. Can both win?

As inflation eases, supermarkets would typically lean on suppliers to cut prices, with some of those savings passed on to frustrated shoppers to dissuade them from buying less or switching grocery stores in search of a better deal.

But in a period marked by a Senate inquiry and year-long pricing investigation by the competition regulator, every major supermarket pricing decision is being scrutinised, making any attempt to reduce prices paid to farmers a potential flashpoint for legislative reform.

During the first public Senate hearing held in Hobart, farming groups made the committee aware that a major supermarket was trying to fund a promotional fruit campaign by cutting prices for growers, sparking criticism.

Supermarkets have fiercely protected their margins, the chief gauge of profitability, throughout the pandemic and inflationary period, by more than offsetting increased costs with higher prices.

Coles is slightly more profitable than it was before the pandemic, while Woolworths is significantly more profitable. Combined, the two chains control two-thirds of the market, representing a much more concentrated sector than in most comparable economies.

Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable growers have told the Senate inquiry the industry is collapsing, while households also grapple with a severe increase in the cost of food.

Sanjoy Paul, an associate professor in the UTS Business School who works on supply chain risk, says supermarkets are leveraging their dominant position over those with the least negotiating power.

“Giant supermarkets have different strategies for different types of suppliers,” he says.

“There is a big mismatch between supermarkets and small farmers.

“They have strong negotiating powers over farmers, but when they deal with big food manufacturers, the relationship is different.”

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

While fruit and vegetable growers have reported widespread financial pressure, some of the world’s biggest packaged food makers which also supply to supermarkets have increased profit margins.

The American cereal maker WK Kellogg has enjoyed a 17% lift in its share price since the start of the year after raising prices for well-known products such as Corn Flakes and Froot Loops.

Other multinational food companies such as Kraft Heinz and Mondelez, owner of Cadbury, have also disclosed in financial results they have increased prices to retain or bolster margins.

The perishable nature of fruit and vegetables, compared with the longer shelf life of packaged goods, means growers often have to accept a low offer or risk a wasted crop.

As the Senate inquiry was told: “Baby spinach is only baby spinach for a day or two.”

Many parts of Australia’s agricultural sector also lack significant size or cooperatives that could better negotiate with the major supermarkets.

The inquiry’s committee members have been discussing how reforms could help level the playing field, including mechanisms to increase competition, which would also give farmers more ability to reject poor offers.

Paul says it is possible for both farmers and shoppers to win, although the margin would need to come from somewhere.

This could entail the supermarkets getting a better deal from multinationals, improving productivity or accepting narrower profit margins, rather than leaning on the parts of the market with the least ability to negotiate – smaller farmers and shoppers.

Paul says: “Supermarkets say they are improving their operations, then why not pass on those savings?

“They need to really justify and provide transparency in terms of pricing decisions.”

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, Woolworths said it was aware of its responsibilities at the “front end” of the fresh food sector.

“As such we are very mindful of our responsibility to balance providing value for our customers, paying our suppliers fairly for the goods they supply to us, providing security and meaningful employment for our team and delivering adequate returns for our shareholders,” Woolworths said.

In its submission, Coles said it paid $32.3bn to more than 8,000 suppliers and service partners last year.

“A key driver of supermarket price increases has been cost price increase requests from our suppliers and farmers,” Coles said.

Without reforms, fresh food suppliers will probably continue to find themselves under pressure from major retailers.

Bronwyn Thompson, a sales strategist who has worked for major household brands, says supermarkets view their fresh food sections as a growth area as they try to entice shoppers away from speciality sellers and farmers’ markets.

She says the power imbalance between fresh produce suppliers and the supermarkets can be huge, and that the big retailers will always try to extract the best prices out of that sector.

This focus on pricing, and of rejecting produce with slight blemishes, has prompted fruit and vegetable farmers to warn there will be no family farms left within a decade as corporate farms take over.

“The place that’s going to be the battleground of visible pricing is always going to be that fresh area,” Thompson says.

“If you get people in to buy fresh produce, then you’ve got them shopping in the rest of the store.”

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Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars speech condemned by Son of Saul director: ‘He should have stayed silent’

In a statement shared with the Guardian, László Nemes says The Zone of Interest director’s speech ‘resorted to talking points disseminated by propaganda meant to eradicate all Jewish presence’

László Nemes, the director of acclaimed film Son of Saul, has criticised The Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars acceptance speech.

Speaking at the ceremony on Sunday, Glazer said he and his producer, James Wilson, “stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza.”

Glazer’s words have met with both applause and opprobrium, including from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who on Monday called them “morally reprehensible”.

The ADL posted on social media: “Israel is not hijacking Judaism or the Holocaust by defending itself against genocidal terrorists. Glazer’s comments at the #Oscars are both factually incorrect & morally reprehensible. They minimise the Shoah & excuse terrorism of the most heinous kind.”

This sentiment was echoed by Nemes, who – like Glazer – won the foreign language Oscar for a film about the Holocaust; in Nemes’ case his 2015 movie Son of Saul, about a Jewish prisoner forced to work in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

“The Zone of Interest is an important movie,” Nemes writes. “It is not made in a usual way. It questions the grammar of cinema. Its director should have stayed silent instead of revealing he has no understanding of history and the forces undoing civilisation, before or after the Holocaust.

“Had he embraced the responsibility that comes with a film like that, he would not have resorted to talking points disseminated by propaganda meant to eradicate, at the end, all Jewish presence from the Earth.”

Nemes continued by saying Glazer’s speech would stoke antisemitic feeling. “It is especially troubling in an age where we are reaching pre-Holocaust levels of anti-Jewish hatred – this time, in a trendy, ‘progressive’ way,” he wrote. “Today, the only form of discrimination not only tolerated but also encouraged is antisemitism.”

The Guardian has contacted Glazer for comment.

Son of Saul and The Zone of Interest both premiered at Cannes, eight years apart. They both won the the grand prix (the runner-up’s prize) at the festival, and both are set at Auschwitz in 1944.

The former focuses on a Sonderkommando prisoner Saul, seemingly numbed as he goes about his work. As word of an uprising spreads, Saul becomes driven by a mission to perform a proper Jewish burial for a young boy who was not incinerated. The film tracks Saul’s experience throughout, with its star centre-screen for much of the movie, the horrors around him slightly blurred in the periphery of the frame.

The Zone of Interest takes place largely just outside Auschwitz’s walls, in the domestic paradise created by SS commandant Rudolph Höss, along with his wife, Hedwig. The prisoners are unrepresented in the film, other than through the soundtrack which captures their cries and screams and industrial grindings of the death camp next door.

Nemes relates this artistic choice to focus on the perpetrators rather than the victims to Glazer’s speech. “[M]aybe it all makes sense, ironically,” he says, “there is absolutely no Jewish presence on screen in The Zone of Interest. Let us all be shocked by the Holocaust, safely in the past, and not see how the world might eventually, one day, finish Hitler’s job – in the name of progress and endless good.”

Glazer and Wilson had been “circling around” the idea of doing a Holocaust film for some years before they optioned Martin Amis’s novel – a heavily fictionalised account of the Hösses’ lives – in 2014.

“When Jon and I started, back in 2014, to talk about this, about making a film on this subject,” Wilson told the Hollywood Reporter, “we of course knew Schindler’s List and Son of Saul and everything in between. And our conversations were all about, ‘What new is there to say about the Holocaust?’ Except that it was evil, which everyone knows and which felt like a straw target.”

Glazer added: “But because the subject is so vast and because of the sensitivities involved, I felt I first needed to educate myself in a deeper way. So I spent a couple of years just reading books on the subject, watching documentaries, reading eye-witness testimony. Trying to understand the impulses that drew me to the subject to begin with, before I even tried to put pen to paper.”

It was during this research he came across an excerpt from Martin Amis’s novel The Zone of Interest, which was about to be published. “I didn’t know whether I wanted to adapt the book, but I knew there was something in the book for me,” he said.

Nemes, who was born in Budapest and has lived in Paris, London and New York but remains based in Hungary, suggested Glazer’s words at the Oscars were symptomatic of a world view or “maybe even a collective psychosis” common to “totalitarian political regimes and repressive religious fanaticism”.

He likened such a standpoint to that of “12th-century archbishops, in an ecstatic state of self-righteousness, self-flagellation, denouncing vice, longing for purity.”

Nemes suggested Glazer was part of “the overclass of Hollywood” who “preach to the world about morality” rather than concerning themselves with crises in their own industry.

Rather than concentrating on their jobs, Nemes continues, “the disconnected, hypocritical and spoiled members of the cinema elite are busy – for some reason – trying to moralise us.”

On Friday, Danny Cohen, the film’s executive producer, said he ‘just fundamentally disagree[d]” with Glazer’s comments.

“It’s really important to recognise [these comments have] upset a lot of people and a lot of people feel upset and angry about it” said Cohen on the Unholy podcast. “And I understand that anger frankly.”

Cohen said: “I just fundamentally disagree with Jonathan on this. My support for Israel is unwavering. The war and the continuation of the war is the responsibility of Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organisation which continues to hold and abuse the hostages, which doesn’t use its tunnels to protect the innocent civilians of Gaza but uses it to hide themselves and allow Palestinians to die. I think the war is tragic and awful and the loss of civilian life is awful, but I blame Hamas for that.”

The producer said that he believed the speech was a collaboration between Glazer and Wilson.

In previous podium appearances, Wilson has made political statements, while Glazer has tended to restrict himself to thanking his crew and backers. Financier Len Blavatnik – who was also on stage with the pair – was likely unaware of what the director would say. Blavatnik is yet to publicly comment on the speech.

László Nemes’s statement in full

It is strange when the overclass of Hollywood preaches to the world about morality, instead of worrying about the sorry state of cinema, the crashing level of craft and artistry in films, the destruction of creative and artistic freedom by corporate mindset or the conquest of pyramid-scheme streaming services producing junk cinema. When they should aspire, in a world more and more fragmented and drawn to its own destruction, to create meaningful movies, the disconnected, hypocritical and spoiled members of the cinema elite are busy – for some reason – trying to moralise us.

And this is reflected in their productions, uninspired and academic, cowardly and never challenging. They all act in unison according to a worldview that reminds me of 12th-century archbishops, in an ecstatic state of self-righteousness, self-flagellation, denouncing vice, longing for purity. Only totalitarian political regimes and repressive religious fanaticism are defined by this kind of state of mind or maybe even collective psychosis.

The Zone of Interest is an important movie. It is not made in a usual way. It questions the grammar of cinema. Its director should have stayed silent instead of revealing he has no understanding of history and the forces undoing civilisation, before or after the Holocaust. Had he embraced the responsibility that comes with a film like that, he would not have resorted to talking points disseminated by propaganda meant to eradicate, at the end, all Jewish presence from the Earth.

It is especially troubling in an age where we are reaching pre-Holocaust levels of anti-Jewish hatred – this time, in a trendy, “progressive” way. Today, the only form of discrimination not only tolerated but also encouraged is antisemitism. But maybe it all makes sense, ironically – there is absolutely no Jewish presence on screen in The Zone of Interest.

Let us all be shocked by the Holocaust, safely in the past, and not see how the world might eventually, one day, finish Hitler’s job – in the name of progress and endless good.

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Quill awards 2024: Guardian journalists win a Melbourne Press Club award for pedestrian deaths investigation

Nino Bucci and Blake Sharp-Wiggins revealed ‘stark details’ of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in roadside accidents

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Two Guardian Australia journalists have won the Grant Hattam Quill award for excellence in Indigenous affairs reporting at the Melbourne Press Club awards.

Nino Bucci and Blake Sharp-Wiggins won the coveted award for their investigation into pedestrian deaths in the Northern Territory.

The investigation was picked for bringing to the reader’s attention the “stark details” of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in Northern Territory pedestrian deaths.

Judges described the article, Lethal highways, as presenting a balanced use of statistical evidence, research findings and interviews that resulted in a feature that “demonstrates clearly a commitment on the part of the pair to deliver a comprehensive narrative without injecting editorial bias”.

“Importantly for this particular category, Nino and Blake clearly seem to have addressed a sensitive and contentious topic with due respect to all parties involved,” judges wrote.

Guardian staff were also highly commended in two other categories.

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The 29th Golden Quill award went to John Ferguson of the Australian for his exclusive story about the fatal Leongatha mushroom lunch in regional Victoria.

Judges praised Ferguson’s scoop, which was followed up with other exclusives, including an interview with the now-charged woman who hosted the lunch, for setting the agenda for a story which “engaged Australians and the world”.

“This was a good old-fashioned scoop in one of the most competitive beats in this town, where nothing stays secret for long,” judges wrote.

The report of the lunch where three people died also won the scoop of the year.

The ABC News Victoria team won best breaking news or live coverage for breaking the news of the premier Daniel Andrews’ resignation, while the news reporting in writing award went to Aneeka Simonis of the Herald Sun for her coverage of family violence survivors.

The 2023 Graham Perkin Australian journalist of the year award went to Neil Chenoweth and Edmund Tadros of the Australian Financial Review for their coverage of the PwC tax leaks scandal.

Judges said in a story that dominated the news cycle last year, the duo’s revelations led to the “break-up of the accounting giant, the departure of the CEO and the biggest crackdown on misconduct by tax advisers in Australian history”.

Kai Feng, Jarrod Fankhauser, Olivia Ralph and Steven Viney of ABC News won the innovation in journalism award for their reportage into the evolution of sneaker brands.

Guardian Australia’s Jonathan Horn was highly commended in the same category for his commentary on the sporting media malaise.

Charlotte Grieve of the Age won the award for reporting on disability issues for her reporting into the treatment of mental health crises, and the “considered and respectful telling” of the trauma associated with the use of restraints in mental health settings.

Guardian Australia’s Stephanie Convery was highly commended in the same category for her report ‘Holding cell’: Melbourne family with disabled son stuck in ‘transitional’ housing for a decade”.

The lifetime achievement award went to Jennifer Keyte of Channel Ten, for a “career of accomplished journalism, presenting news across networks”, and for being a “powerful role model” for female journalists.

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Vladimir Putin’s victory all but certain as Russians head to the polls

Longtime Russian leader faces no meaningful opposition after death in Arctic penal colony of Alexei Navalny

Voters in Russia headed to the polls across the country’s 11 time zones on Friday for a three-day presidential election that is all but certain to extend Vladimir Putin’s 24-year rule until at least 2030.

The longtime Russian leader is facing no meaningful opposition after the Russian authorities barred two candidates who voiced their opposition to the war in Ukraine from running. Three other politicians running in the election do not directly question Putin’s authority and their participation is meant to add a facade of legitimacy to the race.

Putin has won previous elections by a landslide, but independent election watchdogs say they were marred by widespread fraud.

Ahead of these elections, the state-backed Vtsiom polling agency predicted Russians will give Putin 82% of the vote, his highest-ever return, with a 71% turnout.

Russia’s best-known opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony last month and other prominent Kremlin critics are exiled or in jail.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia, who has blamed Putin for her husband’s death, urged her supporters to protest against Putin, 71, by voting en masse at noon local time on Sunday, forming large crowds and overwhelming polling stations. The polling protest has been labelled “Noon Against Putin” and the plan was endorsed by Navalny before he died.

Navalny’s team have suggested spoiling the ballot paper, writing “Alexei Navalny” across the voting slip, or voting for one of the three candidates who is standing against Putin.

Russian prosecutors on Thursday threatened voters who take part in the “Noon Against Putin” action with five years in prison, though it remains unclear how authorities plan to crackdown on the protest given that they would have no legal grounds to disperse participants.

There were reports of some individual protests on Friday. Local authorities in at least five different regions, including Russia-annexed Crimea, reported incidents involving voters spilling green antiseptic dye into ballot boxes.

Ella Pamfilova, Russia’s longtime election commissioner, said those who spoiled the ballots were “bastards” and called for their arrests.

Investigators in the southern Rostov region announced the detention of a 62-year-old man on charges of obstruction of voting rights, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Footage from St Petersburg also showed a woman throwing a molotov cocktail at a polling station. According to the Fontanka news outlet, the woman was arrested and could be tried on terrorism charges.

To bolster turnout, the Kremlin has rolled out a series of new tools to help its “get out the vote” campaign, including a three-day voting period and electronic voting in 29 regions including Moscow. These are on top of familiar efforts by the heads of state-run enterprises to entice or force thousands of workers to the polls.

In the Siberian city of Omsk, young voters were given a free ticket for a ferris wheel ride at a local amusement park, the Moscow Times reported.

Elsewhere, Russian voters were offered the chance to win iPhones and hairstyling devices produced by British household appliance giant Dyson for sending in polling station selfies.

And at a polling station in the oil-rich city of Tyumen, voters could get a picture with a cardboard cutout of the conservative Kremlin-friendly US presenter Tucker Carlson who travelled to Russia last month to interview Putin.

Under constitutional reforms he orchestrated in 2020, Putin is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his term expires next year, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036.

If he remains in power until then, his tenure will surpass even that of Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years, making Putin the longest-serving Moscow leader since the Russian empire.

While there are no doubts the vote will result in Putin winning his fifth term, the Russian leader still sees the elections as a means to further legitimise his decision to invade Ukraine more than two years ago, a war whose shadow hangs over the election.

Moscow earlier this week opened polling stations in the four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine that it annexed in September 2022. The Ukrainian foreign ministry described the voting held in the four territories as illegal and void and called on its international partners not to recognise the results.

Ahead of the elections, three pro-Ukrainian battalions made up of recruits from Russia launched a series of incursions into southern Russia, while Ukraine has also stepped up drone strikes on oil refineries deep inside Russia, in an effort to damage the country’s economy.

The start of the voting came hours after one of the deadliest Russian strikes on the Ukrainian port city of Odesa that killed at least 14 people.

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Vladimir Putin’s victory all but certain as Russians head to the polls

Longtime Russian leader faces no meaningful opposition after death in Arctic penal colony of Alexei Navalny

Voters in Russia headed to the polls across the country’s 11 time zones on Friday for a three-day presidential election that is all but certain to extend Vladimir Putin’s 24-year rule until at least 2030.

The longtime Russian leader is facing no meaningful opposition after the Russian authorities barred two candidates who voiced their opposition to the war in Ukraine from running. Three other politicians running in the election do not directly question Putin’s authority and their participation is meant to add a facade of legitimacy to the race.

Putin has won previous elections by a landslide, but independent election watchdogs say they were marred by widespread fraud.

Ahead of these elections, the state-backed Vtsiom polling agency predicted Russians will give Putin 82% of the vote, his highest-ever return, with a 71% turnout.

Russia’s best-known opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony last month and other prominent Kremlin critics are exiled or in jail.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia, who has blamed Putin for her husband’s death, urged her supporters to protest against Putin, 71, by voting en masse at noon local time on Sunday, forming large crowds and overwhelming polling stations. The polling protest has been labelled “Noon Against Putin” and the plan was endorsed by Navalny before he died.

Navalny’s team have suggested spoiling the ballot paper, writing “Alexei Navalny” across the voting slip, or voting for one of the three candidates who is standing against Putin.

Russian prosecutors on Thursday threatened voters who take part in the “Noon Against Putin” action with five years in prison, though it remains unclear how authorities plan to crackdown on the protest given that they would have no legal grounds to disperse participants.

There were reports of some individual protests on Friday. Local authorities in at least five different regions, including Russia-annexed Crimea, reported incidents involving voters spilling green antiseptic dye into ballot boxes.

Ella Pamfilova, Russia’s longtime election commissioner, said those who spoiled the ballots were “bastards” and called for their arrests.

Investigators in the southern Rostov region announced the detention of a 62-year-old man on charges of obstruction of voting rights, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Footage from St Petersburg also showed a woman throwing a molotov cocktail at a polling station. According to the Fontanka news outlet, the woman was arrested and could be tried on terrorism charges.

To bolster turnout, the Kremlin has rolled out a series of new tools to help its “get out the vote” campaign, including a three-day voting period and electronic voting in 29 regions including Moscow. These are on top of familiar efforts by the heads of state-run enterprises to entice or force thousands of workers to the polls.

In the Siberian city of Omsk, young voters were given a free ticket for a ferris wheel ride at a local amusement park, the Moscow Times reported.

Elsewhere, Russian voters were offered the chance to win iPhones and hairstyling devices produced by British household appliance giant Dyson for sending in polling station selfies.

And at a polling station in the oil-rich city of Tyumen, voters could get a picture with a cardboard cutout of the conservative Kremlin-friendly US presenter Tucker Carlson who travelled to Russia last month to interview Putin.

Under constitutional reforms he orchestrated in 2020, Putin is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his term expires next year, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036.

If he remains in power until then, his tenure will surpass even that of Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years, making Putin the longest-serving Moscow leader since the Russian empire.

While there are no doubts the vote will result in Putin winning his fifth term, the Russian leader still sees the elections as a means to further legitimise his decision to invade Ukraine more than two years ago, a war whose shadow hangs over the election.

Moscow earlier this week opened polling stations in the four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine that it annexed in September 2022. The Ukrainian foreign ministry described the voting held in the four territories as illegal and void and called on its international partners not to recognise the results.

Ahead of the elections, three pro-Ukrainian battalions made up of recruits from Russia launched a series of incursions into southern Russia, while Ukraine has also stepped up drone strikes on oil refineries deep inside Russia, in an effort to damage the country’s economy.

The start of the voting came hours after one of the deadliest Russian strikes on the Ukrainian port city of Odesa that killed at least 14 people.

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Boeing cockpit seat switch mishap reportedly led to Latam flight incident

New scrutiny of planemaker’s 787 Dreamliner over terrifying drop adds to safety crisis after cabin panel blowout on 737 Max 9 jet

Another Boeing jet is facing scrutiny after the planemaker reportedly told airlines to check the cockpit seats of 787 Dreamliners following a terrifying drop during a flight from Sydney to Auckland.

Dozens of people on Latam Airlines Flight 800 were said to have been hurt this week when the plane fell sharply, throwing passengers around the cabin.

Boeing has recommended that airlines inspect cockpit chairs of 787 jets for loose covers on switches, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that unnamed US industry officials said the incident was the result of a mishap: a flight attendant serving a meal hit a switch on the pilot’s seat, pushing the pilot into the controls.

In a memo issued late on Thursday, seen by the newspaper, Boeing said that closing a spring-loaded seat back switch guard on to a loose rocker switch cap could “potentially jam the rocker switch, resulting in unintended seat movement”.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is already grappling with a safety crisis grappling with a safety crisis, after a cabin panel blowout during an Alaska Airlines flight of a brand-new 737 Max 9 jet in January.

Regulators grounded 171 Max 9 aircraft for several weeks, and are still inspecting the planemaker’s production line. Boeing’s CEO, Dave Calhoun, has acknowledged the company faces a “serious challenge” to win back the confidence of officials and airlines.

Earlier this week Boeing said it was “in contact” with Latam and “stands ready” to support an investigation into what happened. “We are thinking of the passengers and crew from Latam Airlines Flight 800, and we commend everyone involved in the response effort,” a spokesman said.

Brian Jokat, a passenger, told CNN that he had woken up as the plane “dropped something to the effect of 500 feet instantly”. Upon landing, Jokat said the pilot told him that the gauges “went blank”, and that “for that brief moment he couldn’t control anything”, before the gauges returned and the flight continued as normal.

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Alec Baldwin’s lawyers ask for dismissal of indictment for fatal Rust shooting

Attorneys say prosecutors diverted attention from evidence during grand jury proceedings into the death of Halyna Hutchins

Defense attorneys for Alec Baldwin urged a New Mexico judge on Thursday to dismiss a grand jury indictment against the actor in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the western movie Rust.

The indictment in January charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on 21 October 2021 at a movie ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the charge. His attorneys in a new court filing accused prosecutors of “unfairly stacking the deck” against Baldwin in grand jury proceedings that diverted attention away from exculpatory evidence and witnesses.

They say that prevented the jury from asserting their obligation to hear testimony from the director Joel Souza, who was wounded in the shooting while standing near Hutchins, as well as the assistant director and safety coordinator Dave Halls and props master Sarah Zachry.

“The grand jury did not receive the favorable or exculpatory testimony and documents that the state had an obligation to present,” said the court motion signed by the defense attorney Luke Nikas. “Nor was the grand jury told it had a right to review and the obligation to request this information.”

Prosecutor Kari Morrissey declined to comment and said a response would be filed with the court.

Baldwin’s motion also asserts that the grand jury received inaccurate and one-sided testimony about the revolver involved in the fatal shooting.

The Rust armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was convicted by a jury last week in the shooting and is being held without bond pending an April sentencing hearing. Involuntary manslaughter carries a felony sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Baldwin was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when the revolver went off, killing Hutchins and injuring Souza. Baldwin has maintained that he pulled back the gun’s hammer, but not the trigger.

Prosecutors blamed Gutierrez-Reed at a two-week trial for unwittingly bringing live ammunition on to the set of Rust, where it was expressly prohibited. They also said she failed to follow basic gun-safety protocols.

Halls last year pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm and completed a sentence of six months of unsupervised probation.

Baldwin is scheduled for trial in July.

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Fani Willis can stay on Trump Georgia case if deputy steps down, judge rules

Judge Scott McAfee’s ruling comes after hearing on Willis’s romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade

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A judge in Georgia has ruled that the district attorney Fani Willis can continue to head the prosecution of Donald Trump for trying to undermine the 2020 presidential election in the state, as long as a top deputy steps down.

The ruling came after hearings that offered a dramatic deviation from the racketeering case against Trump and 14 remaining co-defendants as it investigated Willis’s romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor in the case and her top deputy.

“The court therefore concludes that the prosecution of this case cannot proceed until the state selects one of two options. The district attorney may choose to step aside, along with the whole of her office, and refer the prosecution to the prosecuting attorneys’ council for reassignment,” Judge Scott McAfee, the judge overseeing the case, wrote on Friday.

He added that alternatively Wade could withdraw “allowing the district attorney, the defendants, and the public to move forward without his presence or remuneration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case”.

The decision avoids catastrophe for Willis. An order removing her and her office from the case would have meant it would have delayed the prosecution significantly while being reassigned to another prosecutor in Georgia.

Yet it still significantly harms her credibility, offering a harsh analysis of her conduct and underscoring questions about her judgment that were exposed during a multi-day hearing. Trump and allies are likely to seize on those punches as they continue to defend themselves in the case.

A Willis spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The question at the heart of the matter was whether Willis had a conflict of interest in the case because of her relationship with Wade. Michael Roman, one of the 14 remaining defendants in the case, filed a motion in January saying Willis should be disqualified from handling the case because of her romantic relationship with Wade, which was not publicly known at the time.

The two eventually admitted their relationship, but said it did not begin until 2022, after Wade was hired to work on the Trump case. Wade acknowledged that he paid for vacations for the two of them to places such as Napa in California and Aruba, but he and Willis both said she paid him back in cash.

McAfee was unsparing in his analysis of Willis’s conduct. He said the arrangement did not amount to an actual conflict of interest presented the appearance of one, which was enough to warrant at least Wade’s removal.

Even if the relationship did not begin until after Wade was hired, he wrote, Willis allowed “the regular and loose exchange of money between them without any exact or verifiable measure of reconciliation”.

“This lack of a confirmed financial split creates the possibility and appearance that the district attorney benefited – albeit non-materially – from a contract whose award lay solely within her purview and policing,” he wrote on Friday, continuing: “As the case moves forward, reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit to the district attorney, or even whether the romantic relationship has resumed”.

“Put differently, an outsider could reasonably think that the district attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences. As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist,” he added.

While he found no evidence Willis personally benefited from the arrangement, McAfee sharply criticized her conduct.

“This finding is by no means an indication that the court condones this tremendous lapse in judgment or the unprofessional manner of the district attorney’s testimony during the evidentiary hearing,” he wrote. “Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices – even repeatedly.” He added there were other bodies, including the Georgia legislature, the state bar, and even voters in Fulton county who could address her conduct. Willis is running for re-election this year.

McAfee also rejected a request to disqualify Willis because of a speech she gave at a historically Black church in January. The district attorney suggested in the speech that the push to disqualify Wade, who is also Black, was racially motivated.

Steve Sadow, an attorney for Trump, said he disagreed with the ruling.

“We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place,” he said as part of a statement.

The hearing dived deeply into the personal lives of Wade and Willis, and featured dramatic testimony from Willis in which she bluntly accused Roman’s lawyers of lying and sought to regain control over one of the most high-stakes trials in America.

It also muddied the waters of the case – transforming a blockbuster prosecution about a criminal scheme to overturn the election into a salacious hearing about the love life of the district attorney.

McAfee also suggested Willis and Wade had been less than truthful when they testified – a dent in the district attorney’s credibility that Trump and allies are likely to seize on.

“An odor of mendacity remains,” he wrote. “Reasonable questions about whether the district attorney and her hand-selected lead SADA testified untruthfully about the timing of their relationship further underpin the finding of an appearance of impropriety and the need to make proportional efforts to cure it.”

The strongest testimony for defense lawyers came from Robin Bryant-Yeartie, a former friend of Willis’s who said the relationship between Wade and Willis began before Wade was hired. No other witness corroborated her testimony.

The star witness for the defense was supposed to be Terrence Bradley, a former law partner of Wade’s. Bradley had told Roman’s lawyer that he knew the relationship began before Wade was hired, but when hetook the witness stand he said he was only speculating. McAfee said he was unable to “place any stock” in Bradley’s testimony.

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