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Rumble in the Outback: Aussie boxing troupe keeps on swinging
10 December 2018, 8:35 AM

When Fred Brophy bangs a drum on the floodlit stage outside his boxing tent, the large crowd gathered in front of him falls silent in rapt attention.

Sporting a cowboy hat and a silky bright-red shirt, the tall and weathered 67-year-old looks every bit the showman.

Brophy runs a boxing troupe — the last in Australia and one of the few left worldwide — travelling to outback towns where someone’s always up for a fight.

“I’ve been doing it since I’ve been five years of age. I was born into it,” Brophy tells AFP in a broad Australian accent in Birdsville, a remote town in the vast continent’s dry, dusty interior, around 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) west of Brisbane.

Having his own troupe is something of a family tradition, he explains.

“Me father had one. Me grandfather had one. Me great-grandfather had one. So I’ve got one.”

Brophy and his touring pugilists are on their annual pilgrimage to the Queensland outback spot where more than 6,000 people travel for days and weeks across Australia to attend the centuries-old two-day Birdsville Races.

Racegoers, clutching beer cans while buffeted by dust and flies during the day, flock to Brophy’s big tent at night, eager for more action.

– Lords of the ring –

Back in the 1930s to 1950s, such tents were a fixture at country fairs and agricultural shows in the major cities, says Australian boxing author Grantlee Kieza.

It gave aspiring boxers, particularly those from poor backgrounds, a chance to hone their skills in front of intimate yet boisterous crowds, pocket some money, and become the hometown hero.

The troupes provided a foundation for some top Aboriginal boxers including Jack Hassen, George Bracken and Tony Mundine.

One of the best-known tents was Jimmy Sharman’s troupe, which attracted young indigenous boys keen to earn some cash.

But other forms of entertainment have since seduced spectators away from the ring.

“The great traditions of being outdoors on the frontiers of Australia changed to a more bohemian way I guess, and those sorts of manly rough sports began to decline in popularity,” author Kieza tells AFP.

Health and safety concerns led most states and territories to ban the travelling show, apart from Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Brophy has refused to throw in the towel, and his endangered status has meant his show attracts many fans and brawler wannabes when he visits the Queensland countryside, drum in hand.

– Boxing’s ‘Wild West’ –

“It’s sort of like a carryover from the Wild Wild West days, isn’t it, the idea of tent boxing. It suits the Wild West image of rural Queensland,” Kieza says.

Brophy for one is happy to play up the image of the knockabout Australian outback maverick, immortalised in the “Crocodile Dundee” Hollywood films.

He says he’s been wounded by a shotgun, had his fingers cut off and his teeth knocked out, but keeps going.

“It’s 100 percent Australian. This is what Australians do. This is our entertainment,” he tells AFP.

“If you’ve got a sheila who’s watching you, you fight better,” he adds, using a slang term for a woman. “You win the fight, you win the sheila.”

His tent is a political correctness-free zone. One Asian fighter is called Chopsticks. Another — not a small man — is named Tiny Tim.

Popular tunes like “Down Under” — “where women glow and men plunder” — are blasted through speakers, and cowboy hat-wearing spectators squeeze onto long benches pressed up against the canvas.

Anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson is a recent Birdsville regular, and she was invited by Brophy to be the card girl this year to raucous cheers.

– Irreverent spirit –

And then there are “The Bitch” and “The Beaver”.

When then 25-year-old Brettlyn Neal put her hand up to fight one of Brophy’s female boxers nicknamed “The Bitch” in 2010, he was so impressed by her performance she was offered a job.

Neal took on the moniker “The Beaver” and now uses the visits to remote communities to help disadvantaged youth by promoting education and fitness.

Despite the tough image the tent serves up, its primary role remains entertainment, she says.

“The number one thing is to make sure we put on a show — whether the crowd is cheering or booing. Then we’ve done our job,” Neal tells AFP after two young women jointly challenged her, sending the packed tent into a frenzy.

For another challenger, Leonie Hurst, the fight was one experience she’d wanted to tick off on her bucket list.

In the irreverent spirit of the tent, Hurst wore a bright green floral T-shirt bearing an expletive-laden message while fighting “The Beaver”.

“It’s really cool to be a part of — very nerve-wracking though. You sort of get in the ring and forget everything you’ve ever been trained to do, but it was still awesome,” she told AFP.

“We’ll see about the headache tomorrow.”

UN to adopt migration pact at meeting hit by withdrawals
10 December 2018, 8:09 AM

Politicians from around the globe will gather Monday in Morocco for a major conference to endorse a United Nations migration pact, despite a string of withdrawals driven by anti-immigrant populism.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was finalised at the UN in July after 18 months of talks and is due to be formally adopted with the bang of a gavel at the start of the two-day conference in Marrakesh.

The US government disavowed the negotiations late last year, and since then Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia have pulled out of the process.

The US on Friday took a fresh swipe at the pact, labelling it “an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states”.

But a host of other nations led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel are in Morocco to endorse the deal and the UN remains upbeat that it can help the world better cope with the hot-button issue.

On the eve of the conference, UN special representative for migration Louise Arbour hit back at the pact’s critics, insisting the document is not legally binding.

“It is surprising that there has been so much misinformation about what the compact is and what the text actually says,” she told reporters in Marrakesh.

“It creates no right to migrate. It places no imposition on states,” she said, adding that 159 member countries are due to attend the conference, including “around 100” represented by heads of state, heads of government or ministers.

– Criticism from right and left –

But rows over the accord have erupted in several European Union nations, hobbling Belgium’s coalition government and pushing Slovakia’s foreign minister to tender his resignation.

From the United States to Europe and beyond, right-wing leaders have taken increasingly draconian measures to shut out migrants in recent years.

US President Donald Trump has pledged to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and has focused his recent ire on a migrant caravan from Central America, while a populist coalition government in Italy has clamped down on boats rescuing migrants at sea.

Beyond Merkel, among European nations the leaders of Spain, Greece, Denmark and Portugal are set to attend, although French President Emmanuel Macron is sending his secretary of state for foreign affairs as he deals with the “yellow vest” protests at home.

Belgium’s liberal premier Charles Michel won the support of parliament to head to Morocco and back the accord, but he was left leading a minority government on Sunday after the Flemish nationalist party said it will quit his coalition over the pact.

Belgium is among a group of seven nations described by Arbour as still “engaged in further internal deliberations” over the accord, with Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Israel, Slovenia and Switzerland also falling into this category.

Billed as the first international document on managing migration, the global pact lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and discourage illegal border crossings, as the number of people on the move globally has surged to more than 250 million.

But while welcoming the UN’s attempts to manage migration, activists argue that the pact does not go far enough to secure migrants’ rights.

“Unfortunately, the non-binding nature of the Global Compact on Migration makes its implementation solely based on the goodwill of states supporting it,” Amnesty International’s senior advocate for the Americas, Perseo Quiroz, said in comments emailed to AFP.

After the Marrakesh conference, the UN General Assembly is set to adopt a resolution formally endorsing the deal on December 19.

Fiji take Cape Town rugby sevens title
10 December 2018, 6:17 AM

Fiji ran out convincing winners of the Cape Town leg of the World Rugby Sevens series after beating the United States 29-15 in the final on Sunday.

Fiji turned the tables in emphatic fashion after they were beaten by the Americans in the quarterfinals of the first leg of the series in Dubai a week earlier.

The match was effectively won and lost in the last minute of the first half. Fiji were leading 5-0 after a long-range try by captain Kalione Nasoko but the United States were on the attack before a loose pass was intercepted by Vilimoni Botitu who ran unchallenged from deep inside his own half to score under the posts.

The woes for the Americans continued almost from the kick-off when world sevens player of the year Perry Baker dropped the ball and provided an easy try for Sevuloni Mocenacagi to make it 17-0 at half-time.

Man of the match Botitu and Nasoko added further tries in an evenly-contested second half during which the United States scored crossed through Ben Pinkelman (2) and Carlin Iles.

The United States went top of the series standings with 38 points thanks to two second place finishes, one more than Dubai winners New Zealand. Fiji moved up to third on 35 points, followed by England (30) and South Africa (29).

“We were disappointed last week when we didn’t perform to the level we did this week,” said Fiji coach Gareth Baber, who hailed a “great effort” from his team.

The United States outplayed New Zealand in the semifinals, avenging their defeat in the final in Dubai with a 31-12 win.

They scored five tries to two, including a sensational individual effort by Danny Barrett who sent two would-be tacklers sprawling as he barged down the right touchline.

“To make two consecutive finals is great,” said Barrett. “Our goal is to be a top four team.”

– Cape Town silenced –

Fiji silenced a capacity crowd when they defeated hosts South Africa 17-12 in the other semifinal.

The Blitzboks, wearing colourful jerseys to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of former president Nelson Mandela, seemed to have a great chance to win the match with the scores at 12-12 when Fiji’s Vetema Ravouvou was yellow-carded and the hosts were awarded a penalty inside the last two minutes.

But despite being down to six men, Fiji took advantage of a handling error by South Africa with 20 seconds remaining, winning possession from the resultant scrum setting Alosio Naduva free to race through for the winning try.

South Africa went on to clinch third place with a hard-fought 10-5 win over New Zealand.

Spain recorded their best finish in a sevens tournament by taking sixth place. They were beaten 14-7 by England in the fifth place final at the end of a campaign during which they defeated higher-ranked teams Argentina and Scotland.

Carlos Ghosn: the ‘cost killer’ consumed by scandal
10 December 2018, 6:07 AM

Brazilian-born Carlos Ghosn long stood out among the world’s auto executives as a hard-nosed workaholic willing to take drastic measures to get struggling companies motoring again.

As head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, Ghosn created an industrial behemoth numbering 470,000 employees, selling 10.6 million cars last year from 122 factories around the globe.

But the man once dubbed “le cost killer” by the French media has suffered a spectacular fall from grace, facing allegations of under-reporting his compensation to authorities by millions of dollars.

Since his shock arrest on November 19, Ghosn has been fired from the boards of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, following a months-long inquiry prompted by a whistle-blower. He denies the allegations.

It is not the first time Ghosn has hit the skids over pay. He was among the highest-earning CEOs in France and one of the best-paid foreign executives in Japan. His total compensation as head of the alliance reached some 13 million euros ($15 million) in 2017, according to the consultancy Proxinvest.

Last year he denied a report that the alliance was planning to pay hidden bonuses to its executives by setting up a subsidiary in the Netherlands.

The French state, which owns a 15 percent stake in Renault, forced Ghosn to accept a 30 percent pay cut from the 7.25 million euros he took home as Renault CEO last year, calling the amount “excessive”.

The government had already protested in 2016, joining with 54 percent of voters at Renault’s annual meeting in refusing to authorise his pay package.

The vote was overruled by Renault’s board, but Ghosn later accepted a pay cut after Emmanuel Macron, France’s economy minister at the time, threatened to step in with a new compensation law.

“Compensation is more scrutinised today than in the past,” Ghosn told The Financial Times in June, but added: “You won’t have any CEO say, ‘I’m overly compensated’.”

The criminal investigation in Japan has reportedly lifted the lid on Ghosn’s globetrotting lifestyle.

Sources have said Nissan funds were secretly used to pay for residences for Ghosn in Lebanon and in Rio de Janeiro.

– ‘Never accept interference’ –

Ghosn spent the first two decades of his career with the French tyre-maker Michelin. After an early stint in his native Brazil, he was quickly promoted and credited with turning around its North American operations.

He was recruited by Renault in 1996 to work alongside then CEO Louis Schweitzer, where he helped restructure the former state-owned carmaker and steer it back to profitability.

Three years later, he was sent by Renault to head the newly acquired Nissan group with the challenge of doing the same thing within two years. He managed it within one.

The performance made him a hero in Japan, where manga comics are devoted to a businessman who claimed to get by on six hours of sleep a night and unapologetically upended the country’s consensual norms.

“A boss has to have 100 percent freedom to act and 100 percent responsibility for what he does. I have never tolerated any wavering from that principle, I will never accept any interference,” he once said.

After restoring Renault and Nissan to sound financial footing — in the process shedding thousands of jobs at each company — Ghosn shifted gears to the future of automaking, by pressing hard to develop electric cars.

More recently he has been focusing on reviving Mitsubishi, which secured a lifeline in 2016 when Nissan bought a 34 percent stake.

– Globetrotter –

Crossing borders and adapting to different cultures were never a problem for the 64-year-old Ghosn.

Born in Brazil on March 9, 1954, to Lebanese parents, he moved aged six to Beirut with his mother and attended a Jesuit high school in the Lebanese capital.

Later he moved to Paris where he picked up degrees at two of France’s most elite colleges.

He speaks Arabic, French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, and has picked up a working knowledge of Japanese during his hard-charging time at Nissan.

Yet he also maintained his ties with Lebanon, where he has invested in a winery. And he still enjoys support in his ancestral homeland, at least.

Digital billboards appeared around Beirut last week featuring his portrait and the words: “We are all Carlos Ghosn.”

Arrest of auto titan Carlos Ghosn: key dates

Tokyo, Japan | AFP | Monday 12/10/2018 – 04:13 UTC+2 | 401 words

Carlos Ghosn has gone from heading a powerful auto alliance to occupying a Tokyo cell on allegations of financial misconduct. Here are some key dates since his arrest.

– November 19: shock arrest –

Investigators from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office arrest Ghosn just after his private jet touches down at the Haneda Airport.

His right-hand man and close aide Greg Kelly is also arrested.

Accused of financial misconduct, including under-reporting Ghosn’s salary between 2010 and 2015, they are detained for investigation for a period that is extended twice to December 10.

They both deny wrongdoing.

Prosecutors raid Nissan’s headquarters in the city of Yokohama and Ghosn’s luxury Tokyo apartment.

That evening Nissan chief executive officer Hiroto Saikawa says the company had uncovered years of financial misconduct including under-reporting of income and inappropriate personal use of company assets.

“Too much authority was given to one person in terms of governance,” he tells reporters, referring to “a dark side of the Ghosn era”.

– November 20: Renault names interim boss –

After an emergency board meeting, French car giant Renault says Thierry Bollore will take over with Ghosn “temporarily incapacitated” following his arrest.

Bollore, previously the chief operating officer, is appointed deputy CEO with the “same powers” as Ghosn.

Renault launches an internal audit into Ghosn’s pay days later.

– November 22: fired by Nissan

Nissan’s board votes unanimously to “discharge” Ghosn as chairman.

In Paris, the French and Japanese finance ministers, Bruno Le Maire and Hiroshige Seko, reiterate “strong support” for maintaining the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

– November 26: fired by Mitsubishi –

Mitsubishi Motors executives meeting in Tokyo vote unanimously to oust Ghosn as chairman.

– November 29: alliance affirms unity –

Automakers Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors reaffirm their commitment to their alliance in the first meeting of company leaders since Ghosn’s arrest.

“We remain fully committed to the Alliance,” the firms say in a joint statement.

Ghosn had been seen as the glue binding together the complex three-way structure which makes up the world’s top-selling auto company.

– December 10: charge looms –

Ghosn is expected to be charged on the initial allegations of under-reporting his salary between 2010 and 2015, with prosecutors also expected to re-arrest him on allegations of further under-reporting in the last three years.

The new allegations will restart the clock on his detention, allowing prosecutors to seek to hold him for another 22 days.

Trump nominates ex-Fox News anchor Nauert as UN envoy
7 December 2018, 9:17 PM

US President Donald Trump nominated State Department spokeswoman and former Fox TV news anchor Heather Nauert Friday as ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump told reporters that Nauert, who is in line to take over from Nikki Haley, had done well at the State Department.

“She’s very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she’s going to be respected by all,” Trump said.

Nauert, 48, had been touted for the post since October when Haley, a former governor of South Carolina seen as entertaining future political ambitions, announced that she was stepping down.

Nauert — a former anchor of “Fox and Friends,” among the television-loving Trump’s favorite shows — became the spokeswoman of the State Department with no foreign policy experience.

Unlike Haley, she is not expected to have cabinet status, meaning that foreign policy decisions will remain firmly with Trump’s hawkish national security advisor John Bolton, and Nauert’s current boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

She will need confirmation by the Senate, where Trump’s Republican Party enjoys a majority.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “very much looks forward to working with Ms. Nauert when she assumes her post and continuing the very productive and strong working relationship he enjoyed with Ambassador Haley,”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Early praise for the appointment came from Israel, which has long counted on the United States to veto unfriendly resolutions on the UN Security Council.

“Ms. Nauert has stood by the State of Israel in her previous positions, and I have no doubt that the cooperation between our two countries will continue to strengthen as ambassador to the UN,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said in a statement.

Haley, in what could be a final diplomatic push, on Thursday failed in a bid for the UN General Assembly to condemn the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas for firing rockets at Israel.

But for the United States, the vote also succeeded in reinforcing its stance that the world body is biased against Israel.

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