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Five arrested over SA opals theft

Written By prayud samsah on Rabu, 16 April 2014 | 21.29

Five people have been charged after the theft of valuable opals from a South Australian hotel. Source: AAP

THREE men and two boys have been charged after the theft of valuable opals from a motel at Coober Pedy in South Australia's mid-north.

Between 8pm on April 10 and 6.30am the next day, thieves broke into the Comfort Inn Experience Motel and stole opal jewellery and merchandise.

The haul included the valuable Desert Sea Collection of opalised fossil sea shells.

Police on Wednesday said two youths have been arrested after allegedly trying to sell some stolen opals in Coober Pedy on Sunday afternoon.

A search of a number of premises then led to the arrest of three Coober Pedy men, aged 28, 26 and 24, who are charged with aggravated serious criminal trespass and theft.

The boys, aged 16 and 15, are charged with dishonest dealings.

The five will appear in court on later dates.

Police said almost half the stolen items have been recovered.

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Two shootings in Sydney's west

POLICE in Sydney's west are investigating two suburban shootings which occurred in nearby suburbs and just an hour apart.

There was no indication that the incidents were linked.

Police were called at 7.30pm on Wednesday, and told a man had been shot at a location on Bedford Road in Homebush West.

"On arrival officers located a large amount of blood but no people at the scene," according to a NSW Police statement.

Police say they would like to speak to two men understood to be in the area at the time.

One is described as having a stocky build and being Pacific Islander or Maori.

The other man is described as caucasian.

An hour later at 8.30pm, police were called to a property about 10km away where a teenager had been shot in the shoulder.

The 18-year-old man was in the front yard of a home on Guildford Road, in Guildford, when he was shot.

He was taken to Westmead Hospital for treatment for what police described as non-life threatening injuries.

A crime scene had been established at both locations and specialist police were investigating.

Anyone with information was asked to contact police.

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Two Vic men arrested over $12K fuel heist

Two men have been arrested after a three-month investigation into petrol theft across Melbourne. Source: AAP

TWO men have been nabbed over the theft of more than $12,000 worth of petrol across Melbourne.

Police found more than 800 litres of petrol, a hydroponic cannabis set-up and weapons at a Melton address during raids on three properties in the western suburbs early on Wednesday.

A Melton man, 32, and a Laverton man, 34, were arrested over the thefts, which date back to July 2013.

They are expected to be charged later on Wednesday.

Petrol was found stored in gallon drums at the Melton property and cannabis, other drugs, cars and trailers were also seized.

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores says it wants petrol theft punishable by heavy fines and loss of demerit points, saying it costs convenience stores more than $30 million in lost revenue annually.

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Thai Navy against me: Aust journalist

AN Australian journalist set to face a Thai court on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes says the Royal Thai Navy aims to shut down his website over its reporting on human trafficking and alleged ties to Thai security forces.

Alan Morison, 66, formerly of Melbourne and editor of the Phuketwan website, is to face court on Thursday along with local reporter Chutima Sidasathian.

Both could face five years in jail for computer crimes and two years for defamation.

The charges, brought by the Royal Thai Navy, follow Phuketwan's republishing of a Reuters newsagency report last year that alleged Thai security forces, including navy and police personnel, were linked in the smuggling of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar.

The Reuters' reporters, Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall, were this week awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting over their coverage of the Rohingya trafficking.

The original story was also republished in other Thai media outlets, but only Phuketwan was targeted for prosecution.

Phuketwan has long reported on the Rohingyas' plight and allegations of abuse and trafficking by human smuggler gangs.

Morison said the issue lay in one paragraph from the original Reuters story that was mistranslated by the Royal Thai Navy.

"It's a paragraph in which the Royal Thai Navy wasn't mentioned in the original English version, and yet in the Thai version that was presented to police the Royal Thai Navy is mentioned three times," he said.

"This is indicative of a set-up I would say. And we have no doubt that the Royal Thai Navy is out to shut down Phuketwan," he told AAP.

He said Chutima had also played a key role in assisting the Reuters reporters in covering the story and had also worked for other news organisations pursuing the trafficking of the Rohingya.

"(Chutima)'s been the person who has I guess singularly opened up the Rohingya story to international media attention," he said.

Morison said the charges against Phuketwan stemmed directly from Chutima's and his assistance to foreign reporters covering the Rohingya stories.

US-based Human Rights Watch deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said the Thai Navy was looking to pressure Phuketwan over their reporting on the Rohingya issue.

"This is a little bit about Thai Navy payback where Phuketwan has been a thorn in the side of the Navy for many years in the handling of the Rohingya and the Navy is determined to put them through the wringer," Robertson told AAP.

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Vic govt to consider IBAC changes

Written By prayud samsah on Selasa, 15 April 2014 | 21.29

VICTORIA'S corruption watchdog could be beefed up after complaining it can't investigate some claims.

The Victorian government says it will consider changes to the integrity regime after the year-old watchdog called for stronger investigative powers.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) says there are cases where it has felt unable to investigate corruption claims because the allegations do not meet a high enough threshold under the legislation.

The IBAC also wants parliament to consider making it mandatory for heads of public sector bodies and local councils to notify it of corrupt conduct, as is already the case in other states.

The change should apply at the very least for more serious matters within the public sector, IBAC says.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said the government would carefully consider the various recommendations and suggestions made by IBAC.

In its report on its first year of operation, IBAC says it has been hamstrung by restrictions in the legislation which set it up.

"There have been corrupt conduct allegations where IBAC has not felt able to commence investigations because of threshold restrictions in the IBAC Act," IBAC says in the report released Tuesday.

Not all the cases were suitable to be referred elsewhere and this may have undermined its objectives, it says.

IBAC also wants powers to investigate misconduct in public office, as is the case under other Australian integrity regimes.

In addition, it flagged the need for stronger protection for whistleblowers.

The watchdog says there are cases where people who have disclosed information appear not to qualify for whistleblower protection and this may deter whistleblowers coming forward with valuable information.

Mr Clark said the government has made clear it will monitor the IBAC legislation and take into account feedback from the IBAC commissioner about amendments.

"The government will now carefully consider the various recommendations and suggestions made by IBAC," he said.

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Chinese pork firm execs get $US597m reward

CHINESE pork producer WH Group has issued shares worth $US597 million ($A636.02 million) to two of its executives as a reward for their contribution in the acquisition of US giant Smithfield Foods, a company filing shows.

WH Group, formerly known as Shuanghui International Holdings, is the world's largest pork producer, and the company is seeking a Hong Kong listing to raise more than $US5 billion in what would be the world's biggest initial public offering (IPO) for a year.

In a listing document published Tuesday on the WH Group website, the firm said chief executive and chairman Wan Long was issued 573.1 million shares last October.

Yang Zhijun, an executive director in charge of investment, mergers and acquisitions, was also issued 245.6 million shares in the same month, the document showed.

The allotment will give Wan and Yang an approximately 3.92 per cent and 1.68 per cent stake respectively in WH Group upon completion of the firm's IPO.

The company said the share awards, with an estimated fair value of $US597 million at grant date, were "to recognise and reward their contributions to the acquisition of Smithfield".

The share allotment to Wan and Yang, part of WH Group's $US639 million share-based payouts last year, had cut into the company's profits, leading to a loss of $US67 million in 2013 compared to $US468 million of profit in 2012.

In May last year WH Group, under the Shuanghui name, agreed to buy Smithfield Foods in a deal valuing Smithfield at $US7.1 billion, making it the largest-ever Chinese acquisition of a US company.

The pork firm could not be reached for comment but its chief financial officer Guo Lijun had told state media the one-off non-cash share awards would have no impact on its operational results after it went public.

Based in central China's Henan province, WH Group is involved in the production, slaughter and distribution of pork, a key ingredient in Chinese cuisine. It is also a shareholder of Spanish meat firm Campofrio Food, according to its website.

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It's a royal croc block for George

Prince George and the NT's crocodile George will not meet in Sydney due to quarantine restrictions. Source: AAP

THE royals aren't the only ones who cause a kerfuffle when travelling - it has proven so difficult to fly George the royal crocodile from Darwin to Sydney to meet his namesake that the two remain tragically separated by the tyranny of distance.

Young Prince George won't be accompanying his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, when they visit the Northern Territory next week.

That means he won't be able to meet his crocodile namesake at Crocasaurus Cove, named George after he hatched on December 12, the day the royal pregnancy was announced.

"We did try to get the crocodile George to meet Prince George in Sydney, but unfortunately quarantine regulations did not allow the crocodile to get into Taronga Zoo," Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles told reporters in Darwin on Tuesday.

"We don't know if there's any friendly political rivalry there, because I understand (NSW Premier) Barry O'Farrell is very keen for the bilby to be showcased to the royals, and the Territory wanted to showcase our crocs, because we do have the best and biggest crocodiles ... it's very unfortunate the crocodile won't get to meet the royals."

Flying crocodile George to Uluru to meet William and Kate is too logistically difficult, Mr Giles said.

Instead, the chief minister will take a group of nine secondary school students from around the NT for a half-hour meeting with the royal couple.

"This is an unreal opportunity," said Emma Kellaway, a year 12 student at Taminmin College.

"I'm very excited," said Tarra Brain, from Casuarina Senior College.

Grace Tozer, from Palmerston Senior College, wants to ask the duchess what it's like being swept up in the royal life despite not being born into it.

When teachers approached the family of Chevez Kirkman, from the remote community of Mutitjulu near Uluru, they weren't sure how they would react.

"We thought, oh jeez, some people still think of it as the invasion and all that, but when his father heard he'd been selected he was absolutely beside himself with excitement," Terry Brown, deputy principal of Nyangatjatjara College, told AAP.

The duke and duchess touch down in Yulara on Tuesday, and will present graduation certificates to students of the National Indigenous Training Academy before walking around Uluru.

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Coca-Cola's profit dips

COCA-COLA'S first-quarter profit has fallen nearly eight per cent as the world's biggest beverage maker faced a stronger dollar and sold less soda.

But the company sold more of its non-carbonated drinks worldwide, and its earnings matched expectations.

The Atlanta-based company says global sales volume rose two per cent. In its flagship North American market, soda volume slipped 1 per cent as the company raised prices.

Coca-Cola, which also makes drinks including Sprite and Powerade, has been under pressure to deliver stronger results, particularly back at home where Americans have been cutting back on soda for years.

The company isn't alone in its struggles to boost soda sales. PepsiCo, which reports its earnings on Thursday, has seen even steeper declines in its soda business despite stepped-up marketing, including sponsorship of the Super Bowl half-time show.

Both companies sell a wide array of beverages, including sports drinks, bottled water and orange juice. But sodas remain a big part of their businesses, and they're scrambling to figure out ways to stop the declines.

To boost sales, the company plans slash costs and put the savings into marketing in the year ahead. It also introduced a version of its namesake soda sweetened with a mix of stevia and sugar in Argentina, with plans to eventually introduce the drink elsewhere.

For the quarter ended March 28, net income fell to $US1.62 billion ($A1.73 billion), or 36 US cents per share. That compares with net income of $US1.77 billion, or 39 US cents per share a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, net income totalled 44 US cents per share, matching analyst expectations.

Revenue fell four per cent to $US10.58 billion. Analysts expected $US10.5 billion. Companies like Coca-Cola that do a large portion of their business overseas take a hit to revenue when the dollar is strong, because foreign currencies convert back into fewer dollars.

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US retail sales up a strong 1.1 per cent

Written By prayud samsah on Senin, 14 April 2014 | 21.30

US retail sales in March rose by the largest amount in 18 months, led by strong gains in sales of cars, furniture and a number of other products.

The Commerce Department said on Monday that retail sales rose 1.1 per cent in March, the best showing since September 2012. The government also revised February to a 0.7 per cent gain, more than double its previous estimate. Sales had fallen in January and December.

Sales of cars climbed 3.1 per cent while sales at general merchandise stores, a category that covers retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target and department stores, increased 1.9 per cent, the strongest one-month gain since March 2007, before the country went through the recession.

The strong March gain was evidence that the economy is emerging from a harsh winter with some momentum.

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Youth jobs in national service: Lambie

COMBAT youth unemployment with national service.

That's what Palmer United Party senator-elect Jacqui Lambie suggests.

The former Australian Army soldier who joins the upper house in July wants to see a greater utilisation of military national service.

"You can put them in for 12 months, I'm not saying they sign on for war," she told ABC TV on Monday night.

Such a stint would arm young people with valuable experience for the workforce, Ms Lambie said.

"It's got to be better than being on the dole."

Ms Lambie said she hasn't discussed her plan with party leader Clive Palmer or other PUP colleagues, but wanted to throw the idea into the public arena.

She said volunteer and charity sectors are also crying out for manpower.

"We need to do a bit of tough love," Ms Lambie said.

"If you're not going to go out and volunteer yourself for charity services ... then you know what, it's time to cut your dole back."

The idea does not stretch to conscription, but Ms Lambie said young people should stand for their country.

"If war shows up on our shores then we're in trouble," she added, citing a shortage of military personnel.

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