Brussels Airport re-opens to passengers

Brussels Airport has re-opened to a thin stream of passengers, 12 days after suicide bombers destroyed its departure hall and killed 16 people.

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The airport had not handled passenger flights since two suspected Islamist militants carried out the attacks. Those bombs and a separate one on a metro train in the capital killed 32 people, excluding the three bombers.

The first of three scheduled flights set for Sunday was due to depart for Faro in Portugal at 1.40pm local time, with only about 60-70 passengers. Planes were also to go to Turin and Athens later in the day, with three return flights set for the evening.

The first passengers for nearly two weeks fed into a vast temporary marquee housing security controls and check-in facilities.

Arnaud Feist, the airport’s chief executive, said Sunday would be an emotional day for many airport staff, but described the partial re-opening as a sign of hope.

On Monday the airport will serve a far wider range of destinations, including one plane also due to fly to New York and two more to cities in Cameroon, Gambia and Senegal.

Many flights have been rerouted to Belgium’s regional airports or other nearby hubs such as Amsterdam and Paris, with high-speed trains to and from Brussels packed.

Brussels Airport has warned passengers to arrive three hours before their flights due to increased security and to arrive by car. Normal train and bus services were not running.

Special cameras were being set up to read number plates, there would be random checks of vehicles and the drop-off zone would not be accessible.

Passengers and their baggage would be checked on arrival and patrols of armed police and military would be increased.

The airport is one of the largest in Europe, handling 23.5 million passengers per year. It links the Belgian capital, headquarters city of the European Union and NATO, with 226 destinations worldwide through 77 airlines.

With its temporary check-in zone, it will only be able to handle some 800 departing passengers or about five to six flights per hour, around 20 per cent of previous capacity.

The airport says it aims to return to maximum capacity before the start of summer holidays at the end of June or early July, with some check-in desks restored in the departure hall, followed by a full re-opening of that space.

Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s largest carrier and 45 per cent owned by Germany’s Lufthansa, has estimated the closure of its Brussels hub was costing it five million euros ($A7.42 million) a day.

The city’s association of hotel operators pointed to the closed airport as one of the main reasons for a more than 50 per cent drop in overnight stays in the week following the bombings.

Swans kick away for big win over Blues

It’s not the perfect beginning to an AFL season but Sydney’s two big wins from two starts isn’t far off it.

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The Swans followed up their season-opening 80-point demolition of Collingwood with a clinical 60-point dissection of Carlton at Etihad Stadium on Sunday to sit second on the AFL ladder after two rounds.

The Blues toiled away in front of their 33,146-strong home crowd but their was an air of inevitability about the 20.11 (131) to 10.11 (71) result.

The Swans just had that extra touch of class across every line but nowhere was their ascendancy more evident than at the stoppages.

With 34 possessions and eight clearances, Tom Mitchell led an onball group that largely controlled proceedings, with Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy also influential.

Sydney starved the Blues’ forwards of opportunities while giving their own plenty with a lopsided 69-44 inside 50 count.

Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett made the most of those opportunities with four goals apiece while former West Coast ruckman Callum Sinclair helped himself to three.

“You’re always aiming for utopia and you never quite get there as a coach,” John Longmire said of his team’s impressive start to its premiership campaign.

“We’re really pleased with the evenness of our group at the moment but we know that it can be very fleeting. You need to keep working at it.”

But while those more experienced players impressed, the Swans’ young brigade was a key component once again.

Tom Papley, Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney were among the new breed of Swans to have a significant influence on proceeding at various stages.

“We don’t look at the birth certificates of our playing group when it comes to team selection,” Longmire said.

“The younger boys coming into the team and doing what they’re doing has been fantastic.”

As well as Sydney played, Carlton will take plenty away from their own performance.

The Blues trailed by 38 points at halftime but came out with renewed vigour only to squander their hard work with a wasteful 2.5 in the third quarter.

There were danger signs for Brendon Bolton’s young side as Sydney kicked the first three goals of the final term but the rookie coach will take some heart from the way his charges at least fought the game out.

“We played a very well-oiled machine today that’s got a very strong culture that’s been developed over time,” Bolton said.

“We aspire to get to that space. We know it’s going to take some time but we’re not going to give up on going into every training session trying to improve and make that gap up.”

Former Crow Matthew Wright was again important for his new club with 26 possessions, with Bryce Gibbs and Dale Thomas – playing his first game of the season – also prominent.

Student loan arrest sparks debt repayments

The arrest of a student loan defaulter is being credited for a spike in overseas repayments and people offshore making contact with the New Zealand Inland Revenue about their student debt.

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In January and February this year the IRD pocketed $29.7 million from overseas-based borrowers, a 31 per cent jump on the same period last year, the government says.

Emails about loans were also up 62 per cent and phone calls increased 55 per cent.

The IRD believes the jump is in response to the publicity around 40-year-old Ngatokotoru Puna, the nephew of the Cook Islands prime minister who was the first to be arrested at Auckland Airport over an outstanding $NZ22,000 ($A19,770) debt racked up more than a decade ago.

“It’s just a pity that it takes these sort of steps to encourage some people to meet their obligations to taxpayers so we can continue to support future generations of students,” said Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce.

February was also a record month for lump sum payments that cleared loans in full.

More than $NZ2.2m was paid, clearing 103 loans outright.

The IRD is considering arresting about 20 overseas-based loan defaulters if they return to New Zealand.

About 112,390 student borrowers now live overseas – with an estimated $NZ3.25 billion of debt – and 70 per cent are behind in their loan repayments.

Since 2010 the government has been increasing its efforts to make them repay.

Later this year an information sharing agreement with the Australian tax department will allow IRD to spot more loan defaulters there.

Total student loan debt at the beginning of March was estimated to be $NZ15b.

Uncertainty reigns over migrants in Greece

Less than 24 hours before Greece is due to begin returning migrants to Turkey, little sign of preparation is evident on Lesbos, the island through which hundreds of thousands of people have poured into Europe since last year.

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A few signs Turkey was getting ready for the migrants could be seen on Saturday. Two room-size tents were set up on the pier of the cramped port at Dikili, where migrants being returned from Lesbos were to be taken. Two portable toilets were installed nearby.

The return of the migrants is a key part of an agreement between the European Union and Turkey aimed at ending the uncontrollable influx into Europe of migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Under the agreement, those who cross into Greece illegally from Turkey from March 20 will be sent back to Turkey once their asylum applications have been processed.

Turkey’s Interior Minister, Efkan Ala, was quoted by the pro-government newspaper Aksam as saying 500 people were expected in Turkey from Greece on Monday. Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis would be deported to their countries, he said.

More than 6000 migrants and refugees have been registered on Greek islands since March 20. While returns are due to begin on Monday, where they will start from and how many will be returned remains unclear.

“Planning is in progress,” said George Kyritsis, a Greek government spokesman for the migration crisis.

The Athens News Agency reported at the weekend that the returns would begin on Monday morning on two Turkish passenger ships chartered by Frontex, the EU border agency. The ships will sail from Lesbsos across to the Turkish coastal town of Dikili.

Some 250 people would be returned each day through Wednesday, the report said, without citing sources.

Greek officials would neither confirm nor deny the report. A police spokesman on Lesbos said the force was still awaiting instructions.

Arrivals on the islands remained steady on Sunday, two weeks since the cut-off date, with 514 migrants, including many Syrians and Iraqis, crossing from Turkey through Sunday morning.

Of those, 364 arrived on Lesbos, authorities said.

In previous months, arrivals averaged 1000 to 2000 a day.

Bad weather and gale-force winds have at times hit the Aegean Sea in the two weeks since the agreement. Arrivals fell, then rose again, and have held around 300 to 500 a day for the past few days. Many were unaware they would be sent back to Turkey.

On Friday Greece’s parliament passed an asylum amendment bill needed to implement the agreement. The legislation does not explicitly designate Turkey as a “safe third country” – a formula to make any mass returns legally sound.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights groups have denounced the agreement as lacking legal safeguards. Amnesty International has called it “a historic blow to human rights” and said it would send a delegation to Lesbos and nearby Chios on Monday to monitor the situation.

“We feel there’s still gaps in both countries that need to be addressed,” said UNHCR’s spokesman on Lesbos, Boris Cheshirkov, referring to Greece and Turkey.

“We’re not opposed to returns as long as people are not in need of international protection, they have not applied for asylum and human rights are adhered to.”

More than 3300 migrants and refugees are on Lesbos, Greece’s third-biggest island and home to many Greek refugees who fled Turkey in the 1920s.

Turkish coastguard halts migrants as preparations for EU deal begin

A controversial European Union deal to return refugees and migrants who landed on the Greek islands in the last fortnight to Turkey is due to take force on Monday.

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A group of 118 Eritreans, Syrians, Iranian and Lebanese people were halted on Saturday as they headed to the Greek island of Chios from Cesme in Turkey in two dinghies, local news agency Dogan reported.

Another group of 63 were stopped as they attempted to travel to Greece’s Lesbos from the Turkish coastal town of Dikili. Reuters Television pictures showed the men, women and children sitting in a white tent after being caught, shielding their faces, with a heap of orange life-jackets piled outside.

Disagreements over how to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and elsewhere threatens to tear the 28-nation EU apart, making the deal with Turkey critical to resolving the crisis.

Turkey agreed last month to take back all migrants and refugees who crossed informally into Greece after March 20 in exchange for financial aid, visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated bloc-membership talks.

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Thousands of migrants are still attempting the dangerous sea crossing, although arrivals have slowed. More than 1,900 people have reached Greece so far this week despite poor weather conditions, and a total of 5,622 have been registered by Greek authorities since March 20.

With Turkish authorities silent on their plans, uncertainty remained over how many will be sent back, how they will be processed and where they will be housed.

But on Saturday the first modest signs of preparation were visible. Broadcaster CNN Turk showed a center being erected in Cesme where some returned migrants were expected to pass.

In Dikili, where migrants returned from Lesbos were due to be taken, two room-size tents were set up on the pier of its cramped port. Two portable toilets were installed nearby.

Dikili mayor Mustafa Tosun, who is from the opposition CHP party, told Reuters he wanted more help from the government. He said the General Directorate of Migration Management, which is responsible for the process, had sent two employees so far.

“They will check the ID of each refugee on a Turkish database in the port and then they will move on,” he said.

A few hundred people turned out to a protest against a refugee camp in the small town. Others said refugees should be kept at the main camps close to Syria.

Some waved Turkish flags, and a few chanted: “We don’t want to see dead babies’ bodies at our seaside.”

In September, the photograph of the body of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi found washed up on a Turkish beach sparked global outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees, many of whom have fled Syria’s five-year civil war.

Iraqi forces take northern edge of IS town

Iraqi forces took the northern edge of the Islamic State-held town of Hit, west of Baghdad, on Sunday in an operation led by the country’s elite counter-terrorism forces, military officials said.

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The operation to recapture Hit was relaunched last week, but the troops’ progress has been slowed by hundreds of roadside bombs and efforts to safeguard thousands of civilians trapped inside the town.

“We’ve never had a delay like this on one of our targets,” said General Husham al-Jabri of Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces.

The initial push to take Hit was launched last month, but was quickly put on hold when Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pulled forces back to Baghdad after anti-government protests threatened instability in the Iraqi capital.

After the operation resumed, Iraqi forces had to deal with hundreds of roadside bombs laid by IS fighters along the main roads leading in and out of Hit, forcing convoys to veer off into the surrounding desert terrain.

Even there, the forces’ advance was repeatedly brought to a standstill by booby-trapped explosives. Progress was further complicated by muddy conditions after days of rainfall.

While initially used on a limited basis by al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State group, IS now produces roadside bombs on an industrial scale.

Iraqi forces have struggled to train and equip enough units to deal with the sheer volume of the bombs.

The US-led coalition said Iraqi forces were in the outskirts of Hit and working to surround the town, seeking to build on recent gains made by government forces with the recapture in February of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province in central Iraq.

Hit, 140 kilometres west of Baghdad, lies along a supply line linking the extremist group’s fighters in Iraq with those in neighbouring Syria.

Southern Stars lose World T20 final

The Southern Stars’ six-year reign as World Twenty20 champions is over, with Meg Lanning conceding her side was outplayed by West Indies in a dramatic decider at Kolkata.

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Half-centuries from captain Lanning and Elyse Villani powered the Southern Stars to 5-148 on Sunday, their highest score of the tournament and a record total for a women’s World T20 final.

It looked a fine platform for a side seeking their fourth straight T20 title – an unprecedented feat in either men’s or women’s cricket.

But skipper Stafanie Taylor and 18-year-old Hayley Matthews made a mockery of the tricky target at Eden Gardens.

The pair shared an 120-run opening stand, firing their side to an eight-wicket victory with three balls remaining.

“Full credit to the West Indies. They outplayed us,” Lanning said.

“They blew us away with the bat.

“West Indies came out firing, really took the game on and deserved their win.”

Britney Cooper and Deandra Dottin scampered through for the winning runs by taking an overthrow after Megan Schutt missed a run-out chance from close range.

It triggered jubilant celebrations, with members of West Indies’ men’s and women’s sides rushing onto the field and dancing.

“Being honest it was a pretty comfortable chase in the end. We scrambled and did pretty well to make a game of it,” Australia coach Matthew Mott said.

“But I thought they batted exceptionally well.”

Taylor declared pre-match that her team, contesting their first World T20 final, wouldn’t be intimidated against the three-time defending champions.

Taylor proceeded to walk the walk, scoring 59 to finish both the leading run-scorer and player of the tournament.

The Sydney Thunder star was overshadowed by Matthews, who hammered three sixes in her player-of-the-match knock of 66 off 45 balls.

“It was great to knock off such a good score to win the tournament, It was always going to be a hard total,” Matthews said.

The teenager couldn’t have picked a better time to deliver her maiden T20 half-century, which was also the highest ever score in a women’s World T20 final.

West Indies needed 29 runs off 26 deliveries when legspinner Kristen Beams finally broke the boundary-laden partnership, with Matthews chipping a short ball to Alex Blackwell.

There wasn’t even a hint of panic from Taylor until she departed and left the victory equation as five runs off eight balls.

Cooper struck the winning runs after a wild throw from Schutt, who could have lobbed the ball back to bowler Ellyse Perry to complete a run-out.

“I wasn’t worried about anything, I said to myself `no way in hell will Australia come back and win this’,” Cooper said.

Dottin earlier dismissed both Villani and Perry to finish the leading wicket-taker of the event.

Dottin conceded a single run in the final over of Australia’s innings, one of many moments that Lanning’s team will rue.

“It was certainly a pivotal moment,” Lanning said.

“We thought we were a little bit short … we needed 160-plus on that wicket.”

Victorian voters to see battle for marginal seats

The unofficial election campaign is mounting in Victoria, and according to political scientist Dr Nick Economou, it’s likely to be a tight year.

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“Victoria is a fascinating state, it’s probably going to be important in this federal election in ways that it hasn’t been, in the past,” Dr Economou told SBS News.

“In the past, there just weren’t enough marginal seats in Victoria, and so Federal campaigns tended to bypass us.”

Victoria has traditionally been a Labor state.

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While in the regions, the Coalition has the majority of lower house seats, closer to Melbourne it’s more evenly split and in metropolitan Melbourne, Labor has 13 seats to the Coalition’s seven, and the Greens have one.

But there is movement in the ranks, some of which has been prompted by the retirement of long-standing MPs such as the ALP’s Anna Burke in the eastern Melbourne seat of Chisholm, and the Liberal Party’s Bruce Bilson in Dunkley and Andrew Robb in the bayside division of Goldstein.  

“Whenever there’s a retirement, the theory goes that it makes the seat more marginal,” Dr Economou said.

The inner north seat of Wills is also being vacated through the retirement of Labor MP Kelvin Thomson, who has held the seat since 1996.

One of the most multicultural seats in the country, Wills boasts a population where about 40 per cent of households are bilingual.

Long held by Labor, Wills was former prime minister Bob Hawke’s seat. The ALP only lost it once – in 1993, to Independent Phil Cleary.

But now former SBS executive and former international security adviser to Kevin Rudd, Peter Khalil, carries the hopes of Labor.

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Though his preselection was a closely contested one, Mr Khalil told SBS News his migrant origins would help him win the support of constituents, even though he’s not from the area.

He said the impact of manufacturing losses will be a big focus.

“Many of these jobs are going off-shore, and we’re losing engineering skills, technical skills and know-how and many people will become unemployed, so we need to provide support services for those people,” he said.

But the ALP may face stiff competition from the Greens, who are looking to pick up at least their second lower house seat in Victoria.

Their candidate, local councillor Samantha Ratnam, is confident she can address employment and affordable housing.

“One of the reasons I am running is because I love my own community, so much,” she said.

“There’s so much work to do. We’ve got a city that’s transforming – it’s looking for leadership.”

Marginal seats

One of Victoria’s most marginal seats is Deakin in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

It has moved between the ALP and Coalition for decades, and in 2013, Liberal Michael Sukkar won it over Labor with a 3.2 per cent margin.

He told SBS News he wanted to enter politics to give back to the community.

“In Australia, if you work hard, you can really make a fist of it and have a great life here,” he said.

“I saw that through my father. He came here as an 18 year old, not speaking English.”

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Mr Sukkar’s campaign will focus on economic growth and infrastructure – issues he believes are important to his constituents, who were left frustrated after the state Labor government scrapped the planned East West Link road project.

More broadly, there’ll be other seats to watch too, Dr Economou said.

“The seat of Bendigo also figures as a potentially marginal seat, Labor has four or five of these quite marginal seats, the Coalition’s got three or four,” he said.

He also expects a battle in Indi, with Liberal Sophie Mirabella fighting to regain the seat she lost to Independent Cathy McGowan in 2013 – one of the Coalition’s shock losses.

Victoria should also be prepared for a few more visits by the Prime Minister he said.

“Because the victory for the Coalition in the last federal election was a landslide, it’s inevitable that the Coalition is going to lose seats. Its margin is going to be diminished,” Dr Ecnomou said.

“In order to buttress his authority as leader, Malcolm Turnbull really needs to win some seats somewhere, or do well somewhere, to offset what I think are going to be losses in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania.

“And Victoria is the obvious place.”

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Two dead in train derailment in US

An Amtrak train struck a piece of construction equipment just south of Philadelphia causing a derailment, killing two Amtrak workers and sending more than 30 passengers to hospitals, authorities said.

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Train 89 was heading from New York to Savannah, Georgia, when it hit a backhoe on the track in Chester, just outside of Philadelphia on Sunday, officials said.

The impact derailed the lead engine of the train that was carrying more than 300 passengers and seven crew members.

Chester fire commissioner Travis Thomas said two people were killed.

New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, told reporters he was told by Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia that the workers killed were the Amtrak backhoe operator and a supervisor.

He said debris from the crash flew into the first two cars, causing the injuries to passengers.

Schumer said it is unclear whether the backhoe was performing regular maintenance, which is usually scheduled on Sunday mornings because there are fewer trains on the tracks, or whether it was clearing debris from high winds in the area overnight.

A message left with Amtrak officials has yet to be returned.

Thomas and Amtrak officials said more than 30 people were taken to hospitals with injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating, while officials with the Federal Railroad Administration were also sent to the scene, said Matthew Lehner, a spokesman for the agency.

The derailment comes almost a year after an Amtrak train originating from Washington DC bound for New York City derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.

The exact cause of the May 12 crash is still under investigation, but authorities have said the train had been travelling twice the speed limit.

Samuels taunts Warne after World T20 win

Marlon Samuels smashed West Indies to an incredible World Twenty20 final win over England then teed off at Shane Warne with even more vigour.

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Samuels finished 85 not out from 66 balls on Sunday, helping West Indies haul in their target of 156 after they’d slumped to 3-11 in the Kolkata decider.

The veteran, who has had a running battle with Warne since an ugly confrontation during a Big Bash League match in 2013, dedicated his man-of-the-match award to the Australian icon.

“I played a Test series in Australia (recently) and every day, Shane Warne has a problem with me,” Samuels told reporters.

“I’ve never disrespected him.

“I don’t know. Maybe because my face is real and his face is not?”

Samuels’ spray followed a superb display of pressure-laden power hitting from Carlos Brathwaite, who finished the match with two balls to spare by clubbing four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes after needing 19 runs off the final over.

Brathwaite’s fourth blow was downright insulting, coming when his side needed one run from three balls but the heaving Eden Gardens crowd demanded more.

The allrounder’s salvo meant West Indies finished 6-161 in response to England’s 9-155.

The squad almost spilled onto the field prematurely after Brathwaite’s third six before finally sprinting out.

Wild scenes followed.

They danced the ‘champion’ dance as Dwayne Bravo’s song boomed, while the Windies women’s team joined in as they continued their own celebrations having beaten Australia in the curtain-raiser.

They danced through a lap of honour but captain Darren Sammy got serious in the post-match ceremony, speaking emotionally about how his team had been “disrespected” by their own cricket board.

Samuels was less graceful on the dais.

“Shane Warne has been talking continuously and all I want to say is ‘this (man-of-the-match award) is for Shane Warne’,” the veteran said.

“I answer with the bat and not the mic.”

Except Samuels couldn’t help himself in front of the microphones,

He sat down for the post-match press conference, leaned back then planted his feet on the table and gave it to Warne.

“I don’t appreciate the way he continues to talk to about me,” the 35-year-old said.

“Seems as if he has a lot inside him that he needs to come out.”

The legendary legspinner described Samuels’ dismissal in the World T20 semi as “embarrassing” and “pretty poor” and was similarly critical during the 2015-16 Test series in Australia.

This time around, Warne congratulated Samuels on Twitter.

Samuels also fired some barbs at Stokes, who he has rowed with in the past.

“Stokes is a nervous lad, isn’t he? I told Brathwaite … he’s going to bowl a couple of full tosses. As always,” Samuels said.

“And it worked in our favour.

“He (Stokes) doesn’t learn.”

England captain Eoin Morgan felt for the flame-haired allrounder.

“He is going to be devastated .. it is cruel,” Morgan said.

“We share the pain, share the success.

“I can’t fault anything we did with the ball or in the field tonight .. we let ourselves down tremendously with the bat.”