Australia and Oceania

Australia sanctions top Russian officials for ‘unprovoked’ Ukraine invasion

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) – Australia announced sanctions on eight of President Vladimir Putin’s top security advisors on Wednesday following Russia’s “unwarranted, unprovoked, unacceptable” invasion of Ukraine. Pillorying Putin’s decision to order troops into breakaway Kremlin-backed statelets in Ukraine’s east, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a suite of sanctions that closely echoed moves from other US allies. Eight members of Russia’s security council will face sanctions, including travel bans, and Australia will move to target military-linked […]

Riot police clash with New Zealand anti-vax protesters

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) – New Zealand anti-vaccine protesters pelted police with a “stinging substance” sending three to hospital with injuries Tuesday, as tensions spilled over in an angry weeks-long protest. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern decried “absolutely disgraceful” scenes after the suspected acid attack, and a startling incident that saw one protester speed a car toward police lines before coming to a quick halt just centimetres away. The brief but intense confrontations erupted near New […]

‘Fortress Australia’ re-opens after two-year Covid closure

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) – Australia opened its international borders to all vaccinated tourists Monday, nearly two years after the island nation first imposed some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 travel restrictions. A Qantas flight from Los Angeles was the first to touch down in Sydney at 6:20 am (1720 GMT) followed by arrivals from Tokyo, Vancouver and Singapore. “It’s fair to say we’ve all been waiting a long time to welcome visitors back to Australia,” […]

New Zealand police reject calls to clear anti-vax camp

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) – New Zealand police ruled out forcibly clearing anti-vaccination protesters camped around parliament in Wellington on Friday, saying they did not want to provoke violence on the streets of the capital. Police have taken a hands-off approach after an attempt to take control of the lawns late last week resulted in violent clashes and 120 arrests. Commissioner Andrew Coster acknowledged growing frustration among Wellington residents and business owners as protest vehicles […]

New Zealand Covid protest grows after police draw back

WELLINGTON, United States (AFP) — Protester numbers outside New Zealand’s parliament swelled Friday as police scaled back efforts to clear anti-vaccine demonstrators involved in violent clashes a day earlier. A festive mood prevailed at a makeshift tent settlement inhabitants have dubbed “Camp Freedom”, with music and dancing as police looked on from behind barricades. It was a stark contrast to the fiery scenes Thursday, when a phalanx of officers attempted to evict the protesters, arresting […]

US, Asia allies meet to deepen bulwark against China

by Paul HANDLEY Agence France-Presse MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) – The top diplomats of the United States, Australia, Japan and India opened talks in Melbourne Friday on deepening their Quad alliance, hoping to blunt China’s expanding power across the Asia-Pacific region. “Together we are a vital network of liberal democracies committed to practical cooperation and to ensuring all Indo-Pacific nations, large and small, are able to make their own strategic decisions, free from coercion,” Australia’s Foreign […]

Perth suburbs threatened as Australia bushfires rage

PERTH, Australia (AFP) — Two out-of-control bushfires threatened lives and homes in Western Australia on Wednesday, with blistering temperatures set to intensify in the coming days. An emergency warning for the outskirts of Perth, the country’s fourth-largest city, was issued after a blaze that has now burned through about 100 hectares began Tuesday. Authorities are concerned about the fire reaching residential areas, as fierce winds strain containment lines. Emergency services have told residents they are […]

Eruption-hit Tonga closes borders as Covid detected

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (AFP) – Volcano-devastated Tonga will close its borders Wednesday after Covid-19 was detected in the previously virus-free Pacific kingdom as it struggles to recover from last month’s deadly disaster, officials said. Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said two men tested positive this week in the capital Nuku’alofa and were in isolation. He said the men had been working in the city’s port, where humanitarian aid has been pouring in from around the globe since the […]

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes off Tonga

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast of Tonga at 0640 GMT on Thursday, the United States Geological Survey said, with no immediate reports of damage. The epicentre of the strong quake was 219 kilometres (136 miles) northwest of Pangai, a town on the remote island of Lifuka, at a depth of 14.5 kilometres. There were no immediate reports of the quake being felt in Tonga or neighbouring Fiji. The area has seen daily earthquake […]

Covid-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (AFP) — A coronavirus-hit Australian warship docked in Tonga on Wednesday, delivering desperately needed aid to the volcano-and-tsunami-struck nation under strict “no-contact” protocols. Tongan Health Minister Saia Piukala said the crew of the HMAS Adelaide would follow drastic health protocols to ensure the remote Pacific kingdom remains one of the few places in the world still free of Covid-19. “The ship will berth and no contacts will be made. Australians from the ship […]

Tonga eruption equivalent to hundreds of Hiroshimas: NASA

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (AFP) – The Tonga volcanic eruption unleashed explosive forces that dwarfed the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, NASA scientists have said, as survivors on Monday described how the devastating Pacific blast “messed up our brains”. The NASA Earth Observatory said the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano spewed debris as high as 40 kilometres (25 miles) into the atmosphere during the January 15 eruption that triggered huge tsunami waves. “We think the amount of […]

Samoa, Kiribati to lock down as virus lands in Pacific

Kiribati and Samoa entered lockdowns Saturday after overseas arrivals brought Covid to the Pacific island nations that had avoided the worst of the pandemic for two years. Until this month, Kiribati hadn’t reported a single virus case, while Samoa had only recorded two since the pandemic began, according to the World Health Organization. But authorities in both countries have been forced to put in place stay-at-home orders after the virus was detected in international arrivals. […]