Accused Syd terror teen in jail till Feb

Australia’s youngest-ever terrorism suspect will spend two months behind bars after being refused bail in a Sydney court.

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The 15-year-old schoolboy is accused of exchanging hundreds of calls and texts in 2014 with a group of men allegedly plotting terror attacks on key government buildings including federal police headquarters.

The boy’s distraught family vowed to fight for his release after he was refused bail in the Parramatta Children’s Court on Friday.

His lawyer also confirmed his client would appeal the decision.

The teenager will remain in jail until February 5 when his matter is due before the courts.

One of his co-accused, 20-year-old Ibrahim Ghazzawy, will also remain in custody after not applying for bail in Campbelltown Local Court on Friday.

Ghazzawy is expected to face court by videolink on January 20.

Police had kept both Ghazzawy and the boy under surveillance for at least 18 months and allege that in one 2014 text the boy used the word “banana” as a code word for “firearm”.

“I am going to get to paradise through banana. God is great, no God but Allah,” the text read.

He also spoke of his uncle’s “banana” licence and spoke of going to check out some “bananas”, the court heard.

Court documents reveal the group of accused terror conspirators allegedly used “party” as code for meeting or terrorist attack and “wedding date” for the date of the attack.

Members of the group are accused of gathering firearms and ammunition in preparation for the attacks.

Police raided the accused’s house in December 2014 and allegedly seized photos of the boy brandishing a firearm, as well as photos saved to his phone of beheadings and Islamic extremists.

Putin says Russia backs Free Syrian Army alongside Assad troops

His statement appeared to be the first time Moscow said it was actually supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents in the fight against Islamic State forces.

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Putin said last month the Russian air force had hit several “terrorist” targets identified by the Free Syrian Army.

A few hours later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin had been talking about weapons supplies to the armed forces loyal to Assad.

But Peskov did not say Putin had been mistaken or misquoted about supplies to the Free Syrian Army and did not deny weapons were going to the opposition force.

Western and Arab states carrying out air strikes against Islamic State for more than a year say that Russian jets have mainly hit other rebel forces in the west of Syria.

“The work of our aviation group assists in uniting the efforts of government troops and the Free Syrian Army,” Putin told an annual meeting at the defense ministry. 

“Now several of its units numbering over 5,000 troops are engaged in offensive actions against terrorists, alongside regular forces, in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa,” he said, referring to the Free Syrian Army.

“We support it from the air, as well as the Syrian army, we assist them with weapons, ammunition and provide material support.”

When asked if Putin had been speaking about the Free Syrian Army, Peskov replied: “Please do not cling to meanings in this case. Such an interpretation is possible.”

“Russia supplies weapons to the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said.

Putin said strikes by Russia’s air force and navy had inflicted heavy damage on the infrastructure of Islamic State, which controls large areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, however, that the influence of Islamic State was increasing in Syria, where militants control roughly 70 percent of the country.

The number of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria is about 60,000, Shoigu said, and there is a threat of violence spilling over into post-Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Talking to his generals, Putin issued a veiled warning to Turkey, whose downing of a Russian bomber jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last month sent bilateral relations to a freezing point and led Moscow to impose economic sanctions to Istanbul.

“I want to warn those who may again try to stage provocations against our troops,” he said.

“I order you to act in an extremely tough way. Any targets threatening Russia’s (military) group or our land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed,” Putin told the generals.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday called on Russia for calm, but said Turkey’s patience is not unlimited. 

Assad: Syria prepared to negotiate

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his government is willing to negotiate as long as terrorist organisations are not a party to the talks.

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“We are ready today to start the negotiations with the opposition. But it depends on the definition of opposition,” Assad said in an exclusive interview with EFE in Damascus.

“Opposition, for everyone in this world, doesn’t mean militant. There’s a big difference between militants, terrorists and opposition,” Assad said.

His remarks coincided with an announcement on Thursday by Syria’s main political and armed opposition factions gathered in Saudi Arabia, in which they expressed their support for the launching of UN-mediated peace talks with representatives of Assad’s government.

Those groups also agreed to form a delegation that would represent the opposition in future negotiations aimed at achieving a political solution to the Syrian conflict, which erupted in March 2011.

Asked about his government’s willingness to negotiate with the opposition starting on January 1, a target date established at a meeting of major world powers last month in Vienna, Assad said that “since the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, we adopted the dialogue approach with every party that is involved in the Syrian conflict”.

But he added that “we’ve been seeing that some countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United States and some Western countries, wanted the terrorist groups to join these negotiations”.

“They want the Syrian government to negotiate with the terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country.”

Preliminary NZ flag choice revealed

The black and blue Southern Cross silver fern design is the preliminary favourite to go up against the current New Zealand flag at a referendum in March.

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New Zealand’s chosen flag to go up against the current flag is the black and blue Southern Cross silver fern design, preliminary referendum results show.

It will go up against the present flag in a second referendum in March next year.

Voting for the five designs closed on Friday.

Preliminary results released by the Electoral Commission put the favoured flag with 50.53 per cent of the votes. Its close rival, the blue and red Southern Cross silver fern, gained 49.47 per cent.

The commission sent out 3.1 million voting forms and 48.16 per cent, 1.5 million, were returned.

There were 148,022 informal votes totalling 9.7 per cent, and 2476 invalid votes totalling 0.16 per cent.

Referendum forms showed pictures of the five flags and asked voters to rank them in order of preference.

Voting began on November 20. The official result will be announced on Tuesday and include votes NZ Post date-stamped before voting closed.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says the result shows strong public interest in the future of the nation’s flag.

“While this is a preliminary result, New Zealanders can now turn their attention to deciding whether to keep the current flag, or replace it.”

It was Prime Minister John Key’s decision to put a flag change in front of voters and let them decide.

More than 10,000 entries, including flags bearing the native kiwi bird and sheep, were whittled down to a short-list of five and the vote on Friday is aimed at settling on the favourite.

The campaign has been fiercely criticised by opposition parties.

Those seeking change say the flag is too closely tied to New Zealand’s history as a British colony and looks far too much like Australia’s flag.

But people opposed to change say wars have been fought and New Zealanders have died under the current flag.

“I think it’s an absolute waste of tax-payers money and I can’t see any benefit to it,” said Wellington resident Sue Parrott.

“I have no problem with the current flag, it’s part of our heritage.”

How New Zealanders ranked the flags: 

1) Black and blue Southern Cross silver fern – 552,827

2) Blue and red Southern Cross silver fern – 574,364

3) Red peak – 119,672

4) Black and white silver fern – 77,802

5) Black and white koru – 51,879

Source: Electoral Commission preliminary first preference referendum votes

Australia ‘not yet welcome’ in climate alliance

Extended coverage: COP21

Australia has not yet been welcomed into a new “high ambition coalition” of 100 nations at major climate talks in Paris, despite claiming it had joined through the European Union.

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Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum revealed the alliance of around 100 countries, including the United States, earlier this week at the United Nations summit.

Australia was not among them and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was seemingly unaware of the group when it was revealed on Wednesday.

Mr de Brum – who spearheaded the alliance – issued an open invitation to countries in Paris with the caveat “bring your credentials with you”.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bishop on Friday confirmed Australia had now been formally invited by the European Union and had accepted the invitation.

However, it appears Australia hasn’t yet been welcomed into the group, with the Marshall Islands hinting the country would have to prove its worth.

“We are delighted to learn of Australia’s interest and look forward to hearing what more they may be able to do to join our coalition of high ambition here in Paris,” a spokesman for Mr de Brum said in a statement.

Earlier on Friday, Mr de Brum read out a list of countries that had accepted his open invitation, with Australia notably absent.

The headline act was Brazil, which is one quarter of another alliance with large developing economies India, China and South Africa.

Canada which, like Australia, has been criticised for a lack of climate action in recent years, joined on Thursday. Both countries have recently installed new prime ministers.

Australia had held out on joining the coalition despite supporting its intentions, saying it was focusing attention elsewhere in Paris.

The group calls for a strong climate agreement and bridges the historical divide between rich and poor and large and small countries.

It involved 25 ministers who negotiated on behalf of 97 countries, the spokesman said.

“The list is constantly expanding as more ministers reach out directly to Minister de Brum and affirm their personal commitment to achieving the strongest possible deal here in Paris.”

Mr de Brum told media he would be meeting with Ms Bishop.

The Marshall Islands said the alliance’s four major demands were a “single package” and would not be traded off for one another.

In the latest iteration of the text many of their demands were met, including an aspirational goal to limit global warming below the previously agreed 2C.

Michael Jacobs, who was special advisor to former British prime minister Gordon Brown, believes the coalition could be a significant force in the negotiations.

Whether it was a game changer would be seen once a deal was signed, he told AAP. It’s hoped the historic climate agreement will be forged over the weekend.

WHAT THEY WANT

* Reference to limiting global warming to 1.5C (is in the text)

* Clear path towards a low carbon future (emissions neutrality by second half of century in text)

* Five yearly updates (is in the text)

* Strong package of financial support for developing nations ($100 billion per year plus scale up after 2020 is an option in the text – could be removed)