Key to surplus not higher taxes: Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists returning the budget to surplus is a long-term project that will be achieved through growing the economy faster rather than raising taxes.

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He says the government’s approach is to eliminate unjustified spending, live within its means and maintain strong economic growth that boosts tax receipts.

“It’s been very effective in other times and in other places, and is exactly how (New Zealand Prime Minister) John Key got back into balance,” Mr Turnbull told Sky News on Sunday.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says while the prime minister has taken a GST increase off the table and failed to get an agreement that would have allowed the states to levy their own income tax to pay for services like hospitals and schools, both remain options.

“Mr Turnbull has a series of thought bubbles of ever-diminishing credibility,” he told reporters in Geelong.

“We all know that if Mr Turnbull wasn’t facing an election he would be pushing these schemes of his at a rate of knots.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison will release his first budget on May 3 – brought forward from May 10 to make room for a possible double-dissolution election on July 2 – which will include the government’s much-promised tax reform package.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann concedes there is a revenue problem in that economic growth is not as strong as the government would like it to be, saying it’s the responsibility of all governments that policies are put in place to maximise growth.

Stronger growth means more jobs – and the more well-paying jobs that are created, the greater the capacity to increase revenue.

“But if we want to strengthen revenue growth by strengthening economic growth, the worst thing that we could do would be to increase the overall tax burden,” Senator Cormann told ABC television.

This was not an “ideological obsession”, he said, but about raising tax revenue more efficiently and in the least distorting way.

Asked if he thought Mr Turnbull was pursuing his mantra of “lower, simpler, fairer taxes”, former prime minister Tony Abbott said: “Obviously I do”.

“The important thing is to ensure we have the right systems in place so that all of our people, particularly our most vulnerable people, can be supported in the way they deserve,” Mr Abbott told reporters before embarking on his annual Pollie Pedal charity bike ride.

Jensen misses out on Tangney preselection

Liberal pre-selectors have dumped West Australian MP Dennis Jensen as the candidate for Tangney after extracts from a novel he wrote containing graphic sex scenes were publicly leaked.

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His challenger, former state Liberal director Ben Morton, won preselection 57 votes to seven on Sunday, but the decision will still need to be ratified by State Council next weekend.

The result comes despite Dr Jensen having the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who recommended Dr Jensen be re-endorsed for the safe Liberal seat, which he has held since 2004.

Dr Jensen made headlines last week after it was revealed that several years ago he pitched his fictional novel to a publisher using his parliamentary letterhead.

He admitted it was a mistake but questioned the timing of the leak ahead of the preselection battle.

After the meeting on Sunday Dr Jensen told AAP the story, published in The Australian newspaper, “absolutely” affected his chances of being re-endorsed and was part of a “deliberate strategy” to put his supporters offside.

Dr Jensen said he had enlisted defamation lawyer Martin Bennett to commence proceedings against the newspaper in the WA Supreme Court on Monday.

There have been two previous attempts to oust Dr Jensen – he was saved once by former prime minister John Howard and another time by State Council.

He conceded it was unlikely a challenge against this preselection decision would succeed given it was such a strong vote against him.

Mr Morton told reporters he was proud and humbled that the Liberals had put their faith in him and thanked Dr Jensen for his contribution to the party and the community.

Premier Colin Barnett said Mr Morton had an “enormous amount of ability” and did not doubt he would succeed.

Controversy has followed Dr Jensen recently after he lashed out over indigenous welfare programs, saying taxpayers should not fund “noble savage” lifestyle choices of remote communities.

He is also an outspoken climate change sceptic and opposes same-sex marriage.

Dad charged with killing son for being gay

A Los Angeles man charged with fatally shooting his 29-year-old son for being gay had repeatedly threatened to kill him over his sexual orientation, prosecutors say.

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Amir Issa, 29, was found shot dead just outside the family home on Tuesday.

While the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged father Shehada Issa, 69, on Friday with murder as a hate crime in the son’s death, investigators on Saturday still were trying to determine responsibility for a second killing at the home discovered by police at the same time, that of Amir’s mother, police spokesman Officer Mike Lopez said.

The mother, 68-year-old Rabihah Issa, had been stabbed repeatedly, coroner’s Lieutenant David Smith said.

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Shehada Issa told police he shot his son Amir in self-defence after he discovered his wife’s body in their house.

Prosecutors gave a different motive for the son’s killing, however.

“The murder was committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation and because of the defendant’s perception of that status and the victims’ association with a person and a group of that status,” prosecutors said in a statement.

They did not elaborate. Police had no details Saturday on any of the alleged threats the father had made against his gay son.

Police arrested Issa at the scene on Tuesday, after he made statements incriminating himself in the death of his son, Lopez said.

“He claimed (the son) was armed with a knife, and there was no knife to be found. It was a horrible family tragedy,” Detective John Doerbecker told the Los Angeles Daily News.

Authorities say the father used a shotgun to shoot his son in the abdomen and face, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Cyber threats outpacing government action

Federal government efforts to boost Australia’s cyber security capabilities are being outpaced by the growing scale of threats, experts warn.

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A report, released on Wednesday, found just four of 83 goals set in a cyber security strategy launched by Malcolm Turnbull a year ago have been achieved.

While another 20 were “on track”, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said 22 others needed greater attention to meet the four-year timeframe.

No work has begun on 14 other outcomes.

Authors Zoe Hawkins and Liam Nevill said the constant stream of cyber events highlights how serious a challenge cyber security had become.

“Unfortunately, while the government is working hard, the pace and scale of the issue is outgrowing the government’s current efforts,” they said in a statement.

Also concerning was the lack of transparency about the government’s plans for specific tasks and activities committed to in the document.

The report claims partners in the private sector have been kept in the dark and not given clear timelines, despite being expected to take leadership on some initiatives.

It comes on the same day the prime minister will hold talks with executives from major companies in Canberra about their role in fighting cyber crime.

“We want them to look at developing products and innovation that would enable them to offer cyber security services to their customers,” Dan Tehan, the minister in charge of cyber security, told News Corp.

The review found activities needed to measure if the strategy has had a positive impact on cyber security, such as data collection, also haven’t started.

“Knowing if the work that’s taking place is making meaningful change is critical to understanding the next steps for cyber security in Australia,” the authors said.

While nearly $500 million of new money has been made available to cyber-related initiatives, funding remained a challenge.

Key agencies are being asked to do more without the required resources, including the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is responsible for the strategy but has received no extra funding to deliver the policy.

Regardless, the report by ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre said “significant encouraging progress” had been made over the past 12 months.

The appointment of Mr Tehan and Alastair MacGibbon as the prime minister’s special advisor on cyber security has helped put cyber issues in the spotlight and improve transparency.

Trump’s communications director resigns as staff shake-up looms

Dubke, 47, occupied the high-powered but low-profile, post for three crisis-filled months.

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“I can confirm that Dubke has resigned,” an official told AFP.

No date for his departure, which has been in the works for almost two weeks, has been announced.

For months rumors have echoed around the West Wing about Trump being poised to fire his public relations staff en masse.

Many come from the Republican Party establishment and have been uneasy allies with the president.

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Trump has privately and publicly expressed fury over a litany of bad headlines, lashing out at reporters, alleged “fake news” headlines and staff.

The president’s failure to pass significant legislation, legal challenges to his executive orders and a rolling scandal over his inner circle’s ties with Russia have hobbled his young administration.

That has put the future of press secretary Sean Spicer and his staff into doubt.

Although the White House communications director is a much less recognizable figure than Spicer, they are usually major players — defining how the West Wing communicates and shaping the media agenda.

During Barack Obama’s administration top aide and confidant Dan Pfeiffer held the post.

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May plays down election loss poll

Theresa May has played down polling that puts her on course to lose the General Election.

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The Prime Minister insists the only poll that matters is the June 8 vote after the seat projection study suggested the UK faces a hung parliament.

The constituency-by-constituency estimate for The Times by YouGov indicates the Conservative Party could lose 20 seats and see its majority wiped out, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour may gain 28 seats.

The analysis is based on a complex model and suggests Mrs May’s gamble of calling a snap election in the hope of a landslide win could backfire spectacularly.

During a visit to Plymouth Fisheries, where she met local fishermen, Mrs May said: “The only poll that matters is the one that’s going to take place on June 8 and then people will have a choice as to who they want to see as leader, who they want to see as prime minister taking this country forward in the future, me or Jeremy Corbyn.

“I have the plan for the Brexit negotiations but I’ve also got a plan to build a stronger and more prosperous Britain and I’m confident we can do that because I believe in Britain and I believe in the British people.”

YouGov chief executive Stephan Shakespeare said the data could change dramatically between now and June 8.

“The data suggests that there is churn on all fronts, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all likely to both lose and gain seats,” he wrote in The Times.

“Based on the model’s current estimates, some seats are likely to change hands along EU referendum dividing lines.

“This is just a snapshot based on data from the past seven days and people can and do change their minds in the closing days of a general election campaign.”

Warburton unfazed by Lions rugby schedule

British and Irish Lions skipper Sam Warburton believes their gruelling match schedule on Kiwi soil has its perks and might even work in their favour.

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Warburton, his 40 Lions teammates and the side’s coaching and support staff touched down in New Zealand on Wednesday ahead of their first match on Saturday against the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei.

The matches come thick and fast for the Test selection, who will play at least one game every four days until their second All Blacks Test on July 1.

They’ll play 10 matches in total across the six-week tour, culminating in the last of their three Tests on July 8 against the world champions.

Yet the 28-year-old Warburton, on his second tour as Lions skipper, felt the short turnarounds would help his side focus mentally.

The Welsh flanker was itching to get out on the field.

“What’s nice is that you don’t have a whole lot of time to think about the games coming up, like you would in a normal international week,” Warburton told reporters.

“You actually enjoy these games a bit more, because they come so quick.

“It’ll feel like there’s all guns blazing.”

The Lions are expected to take on the Baabaas with a squad made up mostly of players who took part in a Cardiff training camp two weeks ago – including the likes of Warburton, Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw and Rory Best.

Like head coach Warren Gatland before him, Warburton admitted the side’s result against the mostly semi-professional Barbarians side was secondary to performance and gelling as a squad.

But he’d still like the side to pick up a win, and set the tone for a campaign that will gradually increase in difficulty and physical intensity.

Shaking off the long-distance travel would also be important.

“You do get a good feeling in the camp when you win games but, realistically, these next three weeks are going to be big learning weeks – getting combinations together, getting our processes right at lineout, scrum time,” Warburton said.

“Ideally, we’d love to win all of those games but, as long as we get better and better after each fixture, then that’s good.

“If we won every game 3-0, I’d bite your arm off.”

May blasts opponent on Brexit as poll lead narrows

May said that while she was ready for negotiations set to start 11 days after the June 8 vote, the Labour leader would “find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber of the European Union”.

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Both politicians endured a bruising television grilling on Monday, with May coming under fire from audience members over cuts to public services, including police – an emotive issue following last week’s Manchester bombing.

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In a speech on Tuesday in Wolverhampton in central England, home to one of the Conservatives’ target seats, the prime minister sought to pivot the debate back to Brexit.

“I am prepared. I am ready to go. Jeremy Corbyn is not,” said May.

“Only one of us has the determination to deliver the will of the people and make Brexit happen. And only one of us has the plan to make Brexit a success.”

When May called the snap election in April, hoping for a stronger mandate for the EU talks, the Conservatives had a lead of more than 20 points over Labour. 

But this has fallen back in recent weeks since Labour presented its leftist agenda, and after a row over May’s plans for elderly social care that could see many people forced to pay more.

A new Survation poll for ITV television put Labour up three points in a week on 37 percent, while the Conservatives were unchanged on 43 percent. The smaller Liberal Democrats were on eight percent.

On Tuesday, May repeated her Brexit negotiating goals, including withdrawing Britain from Europe’s single market in order to control immigration from the continent, and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

And she confirmed once again she would rather walk away than accept a bad deal, saying Corbyn’s refusal to do so means “accepting any terms, however unreasonable”.

Critics have warned that leaving the EU without a new trade deal in place could cause significant harm to Britain’s economy – a position repeated by Labour after May’s speech.

“In this election, it is vital that the government is not given a blank cheque for a chaotic, extreme Brexit that would leave our economy… worse off,” lawmaker Chuka Umunna said.

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Melbourne 12-year-old remembered after death in Iraq

An Australian schoolgirl killed in a bomb blast in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is being remembered as a fun-loving girl and a passionate student.

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Twelve-year-old Zynab Al Harbiya, of Melbourne, died in the car-bombing of an ice-cream parlour that killed at least 14 people.

After a long day of Ramadan fasting, Zynab Al Harbiya asked her mother to take her to the ice-cream parlour.

It was, it turned out, the shop the self-proclaimed Islamic State would target with a car bomb, killing the 12-year-old girl from Melbourne’s suburban Thomastown and more than 20 others.

Zynab Al Harbiya had only been in Iraq for a few days with her parents and siblings, visiting her sick grandfather.

Her mother and uncles were wounded in the bombing.

Cousin Layla Al Saabary says the girl had expressed fears about going to the Iraqi capital before she left Australia and she had run after her to assure her.

“She was going to get ice cream after she broke her fast. (crying …) And I was running after her (back in Melbourne), and she was saying, ‘Layla, I’m scared. There might be bombs in Iraq.’ And I said, you know, ‘That’s okay, you’ll be fine.'” (crying …)

Layla Al Saabary says her cousin’s murder shows how acts of terrorism can take place anywhere in the world.

“It just shows that terrorism can target everyone and that everyone can be a victim of it, and I really hope that no-one ever, ever experiences something like this ever again.”

Zynab Al Harbiya was a student at Sirius College in the suburb of Broadmeadows.

The students there have held prayers, and the school has brought in counsellors for her classmates.

Principal Halid Serdar Takimoglu says it is a devastating time.

“All of us are deeply distressed that one of our smiling students has been taken from us in a cruel act of violence that is beyond understanding.”

IS has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says it is a tragedy that shows IS has absolutely no respect for anything.

“This tragedy underscores the brutality of this terrorist organisation that shows no respect for religion, nationality, sovereignty, borders, no respect for humanity.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has expressed similar sentiments.

“The people who are doing this aren’t acting in the name of their faith. They’re just criminals motivated by murderous ideology, and I think every Australian feels so much for this little 12-year old girl from Melbourne’s northern suburbs.”

Zynab Al Harbiya was buried last night in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf.

 

 

 

ASIO head again denies refugee, terrorism link

The heads of Australia’s federal police and domestic spy agency have roundly rejected Pauline Hanson’s suggestion that Middle Eastern refugees are to blame for terrorism.

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They say there is no evidence to support the One Nation leader’s suggestion that refugees are more likely to be lured by groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Instead, they blame what they call a violent interpretation of Sunni Islam.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson says she was “gobsmacked” when the head of ASIO told her there was no link between refugees and terrorism.

But ASIO chief Duncan Lewis has now reiterated his point, with support from Australian Federal Police commissioner Mark Colvin.

Mr Lewis has told the ABC there is a common thread but it is about religious ideology, not refugees.

“That is the issue that I’m trying to make very clear. In all of those cases, they were not terrorists because they were refugees. They were terrorists because of this warped, violent, extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam. It is Sunni Islamic extremism.”

ASIO says 11 of the 12 planned alleged terrorism attacks foiled in Australia since late 2014 were being planned by what he calls “radical Sunni Muslims.”

He says the other one was what he calls a “right-wing extremist” with no connection to Islam.

Mark Colvin, with the federal police, says he agrees with his ASIO counterpart.

“As I’ve already said, and as others have said as well, we are dealing with a radical interpretation of Sunni Islam. So that is our biggest priority, that is our biggest threat.”

And Commissioner Colvin says those caught planning such attacks are usually not new arrivals.

“The majority of persons of interests that come across my officers’ desks are first- and second-generation Australians. These are people who’ve been born, educated and raised in Australia.”

Former prime minister Tony Abbott and well-known columnist Andrew Bolt have joined Pauline Hanson in criticising the rejection of a link between refugees and terrorism.

They point out refugees or their children carried out several of the attacks in recent years.

But Labor leader Bill Shorten has defended Mr Lewis’s position.

“Duncan Lewis is a respected security expert. The point that he’s making (is) that, rather than focus on demonising refugees, instead, understand there are strands of radical and militant Islam causing the problem.”

The controversy comes as Labor mounts pressure on the Government to reconsider sending dozens of Coptic Christian asylum seekers back to Egypt.

The country has recently suffered a wave of terrorist attacks on Coptic Christians.

But a group of around 20 families are facing deportation from Australia after their asylum claims failed.

Labor and the Christian lobby are asking for a review, arguing the situation in Egypt has deteriorated since the claims were assessed.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says each case will be considered on its merits.

“That’s a matter for the Minister for Immigration to consider, whether there are any cases that require review. They are considered on a case-by-case basis, and I’m confident that the Minister for Immigration will make the right decisions.”

 

 

 

Newton-John’s cancer return ‘uncommon’

A cancer expert says it’s uncommon and “very unlucky” for breast cancer to return more than 20 years after an initial diagnosis, as is the case for Australian singer Olivia Newton-John.

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Professor Sanchia Aranda, president of the Union for International Cancer Control and CEO of Cancer Council Australia, says cancer cells are “pretty tricky things” and can lie dormant in the body for many years.

“It is unusual but not unheard of, so it can happen,” Prof Aranda said when asked about Newton-John’s diagnosis.

“It’s why chemotherapy is used after a person has an early breast cancer to try to mop up all of those cells but if we don’t get them all then they can be there and undergo change later on,” Prof Aranda said.

Newton-John had been battling back pain on her current US and Canadian concert tour.

The 68-year-old announced on her Facebook page on Tuesday the pain turned out to be breast cancer that has metastasised to the sacrum, a bone in her lower back, 25 years after her primary diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I decided on my direction of therapies after consultation with my doctors and natural therapists and the medical team at my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia,” she said.

The entertainer first battled breast cancer 25 years ago and has since used her own experience to promote awareness about the disease.

While the risk of breast cancer returning diminishes over time it never completely goes away, Prof Aranda said.

“We know that the risk is highest within the first two years,” she said.

It is, however, very dependent on the individual, she noted.

Once the disease returns and has spread beyond the breast, five year survival drops from 95 per cent to around 25 per cent.

Being overweight, a lack of exercise and alcohol consumption all increase a woman’s chances of breast cancer returning.

Evidence shows that even one drink a day substantially increases the risk of the disease returning, cautioned Prof Aranda.

“We are often seen as promoting the negative messages but it really is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle always but particularly after a diagnosis of breast cancer,” she said.

Keeping your alcohol consumption very low, she says, will certainly help.

Australia ‘lagging behind’ as cyber threats outpace government security plans

On a day when the Turnbull government was criticised over the implementation of its cyber security strategy, the Prime Minister was sitting down for talks on the matter.

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He talked with representatives from the telecommunications and internet service provider industries and referred to cyberspace as “the new frontier of espionage, it is the new frontier of warfare”.

“It’s the new frontier of threats to Australian governments, to families and to businesses. It’s also a vector for the foreign states to interfere in democracies,” he said.

In April 2016, the Turnbull government unveiled a $230 million cyber security strategy with a 2020 target.

Experts say cyber threats outpacing security plans

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But a review by the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute has found only a small fraction of the goals have been achieved so far.

Co-author of the institute’s report, Liam Neville, told SBS World News much more work needs to be done if the initiatives laid out are to be met.

“On a global scheme, it’s quite a good strategy, on principle, because it engages the whole country in a partnership to achieve cyber security,” Mr Neville said.

“It’s not just trying to secure the government, it’s trying to secure the whole country and, at the same time, it’s trying to grow our cyber security industry, which will be really critical in the future to our economic success.

“So, from that principle, it’s quite a well-developed strategy.

“Its implementation at the moment’s just lagging behind.”

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The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reports only four of the 83 initiatives set have been achieved – only 5 per cent.

It says another 20 are “on track” and 22 others need “greater attention” to meet the four-year time frame.

No work had begun on 14 other outcomes.

Mr Neville says the delays predominantly come down to last year’s election and caretaker period, as well as inefficient communication with the private sector.

“One of the big things that we spoke about with people when we were developing this is people don’t know what the timelines are,” he said.

“They don’t know when the work’s going to be finished, or, particularly for the private-sector partners who are helping, what they need to do and when by.

“So the government needs to talk more with people. They need to have clearer communication plans. They need to have clearer plans for implementation.”

Dan Tehan, the minister assisting Prime Minister Turnbull for cyber security – a position created as part of the strategy – rejected assertions the government was lagging behind.

“The government has made major steps in implementing it, put real funding, real resources, behind it,” Mr Tehan said.

“When it comes to the recommendations, well over half of the recommendations in the cyber security strategy, we’re implementing.

“On some, we’re ahead of target. On others, sure, we’ve got to make sure, over the next two to three years, we implement those.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was supportive in helping the government combat cyber crime.

“I think what we saw in recent weeks is criminals and people who would seek to do harm across the world have been hitting soft targets,” Mr Shorten said.

“I think there’s more that the government can do, and it should be a bipartisan, cooperative effort to help strengthen our hospitals, help strengthen our medium and small businesses.”

At the meeting with the online participants, Mr Turnbull flagged more talks to come.

“We need to be more cohesive, and what we’re looking for today is an open discussion as to how all of us – telcos, the big over-the-top providers, the big web-based platforms, Amazon, Facebook, infrastructure providers like NBN – can work together to ensure that we can better protect Australians, their businesses, their families … keep them safe online.”

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Kabul bomb kills 80, wounds hundreds

A powerful bomb hidden in a sewage tanker has exploded in the morning rush hour in the centre of the Afghan capital, killing at least 80 people, wounding hundreds and damaging embassy buildings.

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The bomb, one of the deadliest in Kabul and coming at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, exploded close to the fortified entrance to the German embassy, killing a security guard and wounding some staff, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Twitter.

Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for city police, said the explosives were hidden in a sewage tanker but suggested that the German Embassy might not have been the target of the blast which sent clouds of black smoke into the sky near the presidential palace.

“There are several other important compounds and offices near there too,” he told Reuters.

The blast, which shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of metres away, was unusually strong.

The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Kabul said Afghan security forces had prevented the vehicle from entering the heavily protected Green Zone that houses many foreign embassies as well as its headquarters, suggesting it may not have reached its intended target.

A public health official said at least 80 people had been killed and more than 350 wounded. The victims appear mainly to have been Afghan civilians.

The French, Turkish and Chinese embassies were among those damaged, the three countries said, adding there were no immediate signs of injuries among their diplomats. The BBC said one of its drivers, an Afghan, was killed driving journalists to work. Four journalists were wounded and treated in hospital.

The Australian embassy was put into lockdown but a Defence Department spokesman said all Australian personnel deployed to Afghanistan had been accounted for.

Video shot at the scene showed burning debris, crumbled walls and buildings and destroyed cars, many with dead or injured people inside.

At the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital a few blocks away, there were scenes of chaos as ambulances brought in wounded and frantic relatives scanned casualty lists and questioned hospital staff for news.

“It felt like an earthquake,” said 21-year-old Mohammad Hassan, describing the moment the blast struck the bank where he was working. His head wound had been bandaged but blood still soaked his white dress shirt.

The Taliban denied responsibility and said they condemned attacks that have no legitimate target and killed civilians.