Nurse charged over aged care home murders

A registered nurse has been charged with two counts of murder and one count of assault over allegations she killed two elderly aged-care patients with insulin overdoses and left another hospitalised.

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The 46-year-old woman was charged in Sydney late on Tuesday after being extradited from Victoria over the May deaths of 82-year-old Marie Darragh and 77-year-old Isobella Spencer, as well as the assault of another 88-year-old woman, police told AAP.

“She’s been charged with two counts of murder and one count of common assault,” a police spokeswoman told AAP on Tuesday night.

The woman, who will spend the night in custody after being refused police bail, is due before Sydney’s Central Local Court on Wednesday.

In May, Ms Darragh and Ms Spencer were found unconscious in their beds at the St Andrews Village Aged Care facility at Ballina and died a short time later.

Police allege a 46-year-old nurse, who was arrested in the southern Victorian town of Seaspray, administered fatal doses of insulin to Ms Darragh and Ms Spencer in the middle of the night.

They also claim the unnamed 88-year-old woman was woken in the middle of the night when the nurse tried to give her “unscheduled medication”.

Police say all three victims had complained about the nurse.

The nurse was away on days off after the deaths.

She then resigned and fled to Victoria, where she had previously used, homicide squad boss Detective Superintendent Mick Willing said.

The Melbourne Magistrates Court, where the nurse appeared on Tuesday to be extradited to NSW, heard she had never previously been in police custody and was taking medication for severe depression.

Following the arrest, St Andrews Aged Care CEO Pip Carter said the news was devastating.

“I want to reassure residents and the community that the safety and care of St Andrews’ residents always has been and always will be a priority,” Ms Carter said.

According to the Australian practitioners’ registry, the accused woman was first registered as a nurse in 2012.

Ukraine rejects truce talks

Ukraine has brushed off strong European pressure and rejected talks with pro-Russian rebels on a truce to halt a bloody insurgency convulsing the ex-Soviet nation.

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The unconditional stance reflects a new confidence in Kiev that it is on the verge of quashing an uprising it views as Moscow’s retribution for the ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader and the decision to pursue a historic alliance with the West.

But it is also bound to frustrate EU leaders’ push for a diplomatic solution as well as the Kremlin’s own efforts to force Kiev to make compromises that would preserve the Russian-speaking east’s links to Moscow.

“Now, any negotiations are possible only after the rebels completely lay down their arms,” Defence Minister Valeriy Geletey said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Ukrainian forces have scored a string of surprise military successes since the weekend that forced most of the militias to retreat to the sprawling eastern industrial hubs of Donetsk and Lugansk – both capitals of their own “People’s Republics”.

President Petro Poroshenko has ordered his troops to blockade the insurgents inside the cities and cut them off from any further arms supplies.

The new Western-backed leader said during an unannounced visit to Slavyansk – a former rebel bastion reclaimed by Kiev on Saturday – that talks with the uprising’s commanders were impossible because most were now hiding in Moscow.

Poroshenko told reporters he would only speak “to the real masters of (the easter region of) Donbass – the steel workers and miners, people who hold the most power” in the conflict zone.

But it was not immediately clear how he intended to force the militias to give up their three-month campaign to join Russian rule.

Lugansk separatist leader Valeriy Bolotov claimed his men had managed to actually push back Ukrainian troops from part of the Russian border city and receive fresh supplies of anti-aircraft and artillery guns.

Poroshenko tore up a 10-day ceasefire on July 1 because of uninterrupted rebel attacks that claimed the lives of more than 20 Ukrainian troops.

Uneasy EU leaders are hoping a new truce and a Kremlin promise not to meddle can take pressure off the bloc to adopt sweeping sanctions that could damage their own strong energy and financial bonds with Russia.

French President Francois Hollande said he intended to press Poroshenko on Wednesday during a joint call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Senators should find savings: Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has challenged cross bench senators to come up with savings to match the holes they are punching in the federal budget.

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The Senate will resume debate on the carbon tax repeal on Tuesday, after the government successfully brought on the package of bills on Monday.

Palmer United Party senators threw the government temporarily off balance when they initially voted with Labor and the Greens not to bring on the bills until next Monday.

The coalition, which holds 33 seats in the new upper house, is confident of securing the six extra votes it needs to pass the bills as early as this week.

But Clive Palmer, whose party holds three crucial votes, insists the government should keep a number of costly Labor climate programs.

Mr Palmer also says the government should not go ahead with at least $9 billion in cuts to spending out of Labor’s mining tax scheme.

Mr Abbott said the coalition promised at the September election to scrap the SchoolKids Bonus, the low income support payment and the low income superannuation payment because they were funded by the mining tax which is to be abolished.

“Obviously, we will keep talking to the cross bench senators but, in the end, if they want to keep spending this money presumably they are going to have to find savings to pay for it,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network on Tuesday.

“We will push on with implementing our program. That’s what we were elected to do.”

He described the debate in the Senate as a “bit of argy-bargy”.

The repeal of the mining tax will be the immediate next order of business for the Senate after the carbon tax repeal bills are passed.

The Senate will resume at 12.30pm (AEST) after senators join with House of Representatives members to listen to a speech by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Former winner Schleck out of Tour

Former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck pulled out of the race ahead of Tuesday’s fourth stage because of an injured knee.

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Schleck, 29, the 2010 champion, crashed during Monday’s third stage from Cambridge to London after a spectator standing in the road disrupted the peloton.

“Very disappointed to let you know that I will not be able to start,” he said on his Twitter feed.

“My knee is too damaged from the crash. This is a huge blow for me.”

His Trek team said on Twitter that he would need an operation.

“The ligaments and meniscus in the right knee are too severely damaged from his crash in yesterday’s final,” said Trek.

“He will travel to Basel now for examination and a possible operation.”

Tuesday’s fourth stage of the Tour is a 163km run from Le Touquet to Lille.

The news continues a miserable last couple of years for the Luxembourger.

He missed the 2012 Tour after breaking a bone in his lower back in a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine a month beforehand.

Since then he has failed to muster anything like the form that took him to top two finishes in three successive Tours from 2009 to 2011.

Earlier this year he failed to finish any of the three Ardennes Classics and crashed in two of them.

He also had an anonymous ride at last month’s Tour de Suisse and suffered the ignominy of being removed as Trek’s team leader for the Tour.

He was instead supposed to help brother Frank Schleck and veteran Spaniard Haimar Zubeldia in the high mountain stages.

Schleck’s fall from grace these last couple of years has mystified those in the cycling world.

Once thought of as the next great prospect in cycling and a potential multiple Tour winner, his best result in any race since finishing second at the 2011 Tour is a 20th place finish in the Grand Boucle in 2013.

It was thought that Trek’s decision to take him out of the spotlight at this Tour would give him the chance to rediscover some of his old form and perhaps win a mountain stage.

He himself insisted before the start of the Tour that he still had a lot to offer the sport.

“I believe I still have a name and I believe I have good capacities and good legs,” he said last week.

“I go into the Tour with lower ambitions than the years before; my first objective is to be there to help Frank and Haimar in the climbs.

“There’s still a good chance for me to go for a stage. The Tour de France has lots of opportunities.”

Harry Potter returns with grey hairs in new JK Rowling story

In an article on the “Pottermore” website written in the form of a gossip column, Harry and his friends reunite at a tournament of the broomstick-riding game quidditch.

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Harry’s red-haired friend Ron Weasley is said to be thinning on top, while the 1,500-word story raises questions over the state of Harry’s marriage to Ron’s sister Ginny Weasley.

   

Millionaire author Rowling meanwhile gives a teaser when she writes that Harry — played by the actor Daniel Radcliffe in the films spawned by the book — sports a new scar on his cheek to go with the lightning-shaped one on his forehead.

   

“About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s (high-level wizard’s) black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old,” the story says.

   

There is a further hint of things to come when the story asks whether the “chosen one” might be “embroiled in fresh mysteries that will one day explode upon us all, plunging us into a new age of terror and mayhem.”

   

Rowling has sold more than 450 million copies of the Harry Potter books — which tell the story of the young wizard and his friends at the Hogwarts school of magic — while they have also spawned a string of hit films and the Pottermore website.

   

Her latest piece is written in the form of a gossip column by Rita Skeeter of the Daily Prophet, a character from the Potter books who draws on the author’s own vocal criticisms of British tabloid journalism.

   

In the story, Harry brings his two sons James and Albus — last seen in the epilogue to the seventh and final instalment “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” — to see the “2014 Quidditch Cup”.

   

But the story hints at problems in his marriage to Ginny, now a journalist covering the tournament, asking: “Are cracks beginning to show in a union that the Potters are determined to promote as happy?”

   

Meanwhile Ron Weasley — played by actor Rupert Grint in the films — has gone to work at the family magic shop but the columnist whispers about “mental illness”.

   

Ron and Hermione Grainger — played by actress Emma Watson — also have two children in the new story, son Hugo and daughter Rose.

   

Hermione has enjoyed a “meteoric rise” to Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement but the gossipy writer asks: “Does Hermione Granger prove that a witch really can have it all? (No – look at her hair.)”

   

There is no sign however that Rowling has acted on her admission earlier this year that she should have married off Hermione to Harry, and that Ron and Hermione would probably have ended up in marriage counselling.

   

The new piece is part of a series about the Quidditch Cup — a nod to the football World Cup in Brazil — that are set to appear on Pottermore. The final article will be published on Friday and will see Ginny Potter cover the cup final, between Brazil and Bulgaria.

   

Rowling has been keeping busy since the seventh and final novel in the series was published in 2007.

   

She published her first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy”, to mixed reviews in 2012 and has also released two big-selling crime novels under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith.  

   

She announced last year that she will make her screenwriting debut by penning a series of spin-off films set in the Potter world, starting with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”.

Cook aiming for much-needed runs against India

But he told a news conference on Tuesday that he does not feel out of form, despite coming under pressure not just for his paucity of runs but also a perceived lack of attacking instinct as captain.

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Having spent 10 days away since losing the second and final test to Sri Lanka, the left-hander said he was ready to start contributing with the bat.

“I never have felt that I’ve been hitting the ball particularly badly this summer – I scored some runs for Essex at the beginning of the season and I haven’t managed to transform that into runs for England,” he said.

“I know how important it is at the top of the order to do that and I’m desperately keen to lead from the front and score some runs.

“As a batter especially, you’re in there because you are one of the top six batters in the country and your job is to score the runs to set up the game for England. Doesn’t matter if you’re captain or not.

“I haven’t been doing that over the last year or so, and no-one’s keener than me to put that right,” he added. “I know I’ve got to score runs at the top of the order in this series.”

Cook did not think leading the team had interfered with his job of laying a strong platform for England’s middle order, having seen his side fail to register a win in their past eight tests and slump to series losses to Australia and Sri Lanka.

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“It’s a huge honour to do this and I can go to sleep knowing I’ve thrown everything I’ve got into it,” he said.

Cook was confident Matt Prior would be fit to keep wicket, despite hurting his thigh in training on Monday, and said the selectors faced a tough choice regarding Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, back in the squad, having taking 10 wickets for his county.

The place of newcomer Chris Jordan, who performed well in his first two tests against Sri Lanka, appears most at risk should Stokes be selected.

India have only three players in their 18-strong squad – captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, seamer Ishant Sharma and opener Gautam Gambhir – who have played a test in England previously.

Rahul Dravid has been asked to mentor the younger players as they look to win their first test overseas since 2011.

“We wanted a mentor with the side who can talk about his past experience, a lot of stuff but not just talking about technical things,” wicketkeeper-batsman Dhoni told reporters.

“A lot of it is [Dravid] interacting with the youngsters, and they are comfortable talking to him.

“We noticed that in South Africa. He was part of the commentary team and they’d go up to him and approach him, have a chat whether it’s cricket or something else.”

(Reporting by Josh Reich, editing by Neville Dalton)

Gaza conflict: Israel steps up military offensive

Israeli warplanes have killed at least 16 Palestinians, Palestinian officals say.

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The strikes are pounding the Gaza Strip in a new campaign to stamp out Hamas rocket fire as the two sides slide toward major conflict.

In the most serious flare-up over Gaza since November 2012, Israel was on Tuesday struggling to contain a wave of violence in Arab towns over the grisly murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas demanded Israel “immediately stop” its air campaign, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and asked the world to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

But Netanyahu was expected to order a “significant broadening” of the operation and instruct the army to “take off the gloves,” army radio said, quoting a source close to the premier.

Israel calls up 40,000 reservists

After nearly four weeks of intensifying rocket fire on the south, Israel appeared bent on dealing the Islamist Hamas movement a heavy blow, with the cabinet reportedly authorising the call up of some 40,000 reservists.

In central Gaza, one man was killed near Nusseirat refugee camp. Witnesses said he was a member of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Shortly after, another four people were killed when a missile slammed into a car in Gaza City.

Relatives said the victims were all Hamas militants. One was identified as Mohammed Shaaban, 32, who ran the Brigades’ naval unit.

Seven others were killed and at least 25 wounded when a missile struck a house in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, medics said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel was “playing with fire” and would pay.

Israeli army launch Operation Protective Edge

The Israeli army was preparing all options to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground assault, a senior official said.

“The army is preparing for all possible scenarios, including an invasion or a ground operation,” he said.

Military spokesman General Moti Almoz told the radio “we have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard”, saying the operation would take place “in stages”.

He also confirmed Israel was preparing for a possible ground offensive.

“All options are on the table; all these steps are being considered. Two brigades, which are currently stationed around the Gaza Strip, are prepared and ready, and in the coming days, more will arrive.”

Around Gaza, dozens of tanks and soldiers could be seen massing along the border.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned it was likely to be a protracted campaign.

“We are preparing for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end in just a few days,” he said, with the aim being “to exact a very heavy price from Hamas”.

Since June 12, when the current round of tit-for-tat violence began, more than 250 rockets have hit southern Israel, with another 40 intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system.

So far no Israelis have been killed.

Since midnight, militants had fired more than 100 rockets, an army spokeswoman said, with about a third hitting Israeli territory.

The rocket fire has drawn a strong reaction from Washington and Brussels.

The latest flare-up comes as Israel arrested six Jewish extremists in connection with the grisly kidnap and murder of the Palestinian teenager, burned alive in a suspected revenge attack the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank.

UN urges Australia review refugee handling

Australia should hold a wide-ranging judicial review of its treatment of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka, the United Nations’ human rights office said amid uproar over Canberra’s handling of the issue.

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The office’s spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said it welcomed an interim injunction granted late Monday by Australia’s High Court to prevent the handover of a boatload of 153 Sri Lankans, including 37 children.

“We understand that since their interception more than a week ago, the individuals on this vessel have not been able to make contact with family members or refugee organisations,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

“We hope the matter will be subject to a full judicial review in light of Australia’s obligations under international law,” she added.

Among the areas that need checking are whether Australia respects the principle of “non-refoulement” – UN-speak for not turning away a refugee without a fair hearing, a key tenet of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

In addition, Shamdasani said, Australia needs to assess its compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On Sunday, another vessel was returned to Sri Lanka following a week of secrecy.

The adults among the group of 41 – 28 men and four women – were charged on Tuesday with having attempted to leave Sri Lanka illegally, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

A court in the southern Sri Lankan town of Galle granted bail to 27 of them while five were remanded in custody for two weeks. The nine children were discharged.

Shamdasani said the UN rights office was “deeply disturbed” by their return, given an apparent lack of adequate screening of each of the would-be refugees – most of them ethnic minority Tamils fleeing persecution at home.

The process reportedly involved a four-question interview via video link with the applicants denied the means to challenge it.

“International law requires that each and every case be properly and individually examined on its own merits. This is not something that can or should be done hurriedly, remotely and on the high seas, without procedural safeguards and due process guarantees for those involved,” Shamdasani said.

“Any returns, even from the high seas or in the territorial seas of other states, must be carried out in accordance with international law, under which refoulement and collective expulsions are strictly prohibited,” she added.

She said it was also unclear whether Australia had received any assurances that the returnees would not face ill-treatment in Sri Lanka, nor how Canberra would monitor their fate.

Executive freed as World Cup hospitality probes continue

But his company, MATCH Services, remains at the centre of two investigations that once again raise questions about the business and commercial practices of FIFA, soccer’s governing body and an organisation long tarnished by allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency.

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In addition to the ongoing police probe over a scheme to illegally resell tickets, Brazil’s antitrust authorities for the past year have been investigating whether MATCH, appointed by FIFA to provide ticketing, accommodation and event information technology, unfairly sold hotel bookings at inflated prices.

While the ticketing investigation has gained steam over the past week, with the arrest of 11 suspected scalpers in addition to Whelan, Brazil’s antitrust authority said it will continue analysing MATCH hotel packages at least through the end of the tournament, which ends Sunday.

Cade, as the antitrust authority is known, said on Tuesday that the probe seeks to determine whether the prices charged by MATCH for some of its hotel packages, and exclusivity clauses that enabled the company to reserve large batches of rooms, had any adverse effect on overall pricing for World Cup lodging.

Though Cade said MATCH has cooperated with the investigation since it began, the authority in a statement Tuesday said it “considers it relevant to maintain the investigation open.”

MATCH, for its part, in a statement said it followed “transparent” pricing practices and made block reservations in line with “standard practice for any major event.”

Earlier Tuesday, MATCH said Whelan, an Englishman, was released in Rio de Janeiro and that he will assist police with further enquiries into the ticketing investigation.

That probe seeks to determine whether Whelan enabled a scalping ring by giving them access to tickets that were originally allocated to soccer federations and other VIPs but later resold in violation of Brazilian law. “MATCH have complete faith that the facts will establish that he has not violated any laws,” it said in a statement. Whelan was arrested at Rio’s beachfront Copacabana Palace hotel Monday as a result of the investigation, known as Operation Jules Rimet. The probe has further sullied the reputation of FIFA, which has been subject to previous ticketing controversies at prior World Cups and faces allegations of bribery surrounding Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 tournament.

FIFA on Tuesday also said it is cooperating with Brazilian authorities. Rio de Janeiro police said in a statement that Whelan will be expected to appear for further questioning at a date to be arranged. He has been charged under the Brazilian Supporters’ Statute with “supplying or facilitating the distribution of tickets for a price that is superior to the one printed on the ticket.” MATCH is the main provider of hospitality packages for the World Cup and paid $240 million for the exclusive rights to sell corporate hospitality at the 2010 World Cup and this one.

(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada; Writing by Mike Collett, Editing by Nigel Hunt)