Russia launches biggest war games since Cold War

Russia launched its largest military exercise since the Cold War today, war games that will also involve thousands of Chinese troops in a show of burgeoning military ties between Moscow and Beijing amid spiralling tensions with the West.

Moscow said the Vostok (East) 2018 manoeuvres will span vast expanses of Siberia and the Far East and involve nearly 300,000 Russian troops, more than 1,000 aircraft, about 36,000 tanks and other military vehicles and 80 warships.

China is sending about 3,200 troops, 900 combat vehicles and 30 aircraft to join the drills at a Siberian firing range, a significant deployment that reflects its shift toward a full-fledged military alliance with Russia. Mongolia also has sent a military contingent.

As the manoeuvres kicked off, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russia Tuesday to attend an economic forum in Vladivostok. President Vladimir Putin treated Xi to pancakes with caviar and shots of vodka in a show of their warm personal ties.

Moscow and Beijing have forged what they described as a "strategic partnership," expressing their shared opposition to the "unipolar" world, the term they use to describe perceived US global domination.

Some experts pointed that the US helped spawn closer Russia-China military ties by labelling them strategic competitors.

"They feel they need to embrace to deal with the increasingly high pressure and containment from the US," said Yue Gang, a military expert and retired Chinese army colonel.

He noted that China feels that the US's hostile attitude and actions, such as deploying the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea, relieve it of any need to take Washington's views into consideration when deepening strategic trust with Moscow.

"The war games have laid a foundation for China and Russia to enhance cooperation on international arena and will lift the combat proficiency of both sides," he said.

The Chinese media touted the Chinese involvement in the manoeuvres as the country's largest-ever dispatch of forces abroad for war games.

Some noted that the People's Liberation Army, which hasn't fought a war since the attempted invasion of Vietnam in 1979, is keen to learn from Russia's experience in the Syrian campaign, where it tested its latest weapons and tactics.

From China's perspective, the emerging military alliance with Russia sends a strong signal to the US and its ally Japan as Beijing moves to defend its interests in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, as well as Taiwan and the Senkaku and Diaoyu islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

Hong Kong-based commentator Song Zhongping said China is anxious to acquire more experience in large-scale operations that might become a factor in a conflict with the US and others over territorial claims in Asia.

"Russia has very strong real combat abilities and the participation of the PLA in such a large-scale military exercise that is specially tailored for an anti-invasion war indicates China's intention to learn more valuable combat practices and lift its ability for joint combat," Song said.

For Russia, the increasingly robust alliance with China is particularly important amid the growing tensions with the US and its allies and a looming threat of more biting US sanctions.

"There is a new element in the manoeuvres: the involvement of China and Mongolia," Gen. Ret. Yevgeny Buzhinsky, the former head of the Russian Defence Ministry's foreign relations department, said in remarks carried by state RIA Novosti news agency. "It could send a signal to our American partners."

The US and its NATO allies are closely eyeing the exercises for what they reveal about military cooperation between Russia and China and their mounting military might.

"We're obviously aware of it, we're watching it closely," said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman. "We're aware of Russia's right to sovereignty and to exercise in order to ensure their readiness."

NATO Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said that the exercise "fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defence budget and its military presence."

She also noted that "China has growing military capabilities and is playing an increasingly significant global role," adding that "it's important for NATO to engage with China."

In this frame grab provided by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, Russian armored personnel carriers roll during the military exercises in the Chita region, Eastern Siberia, during the Vostok 2018 exercises in Russia. Russia's military chief of staff says that the military exercises expected to be the biggest in three decades, will involve nearly 300,000 troops. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)
The Russian Defence Ministry Press Service provided a video. Source: Associated Press



Trump says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh 'anxious' to testify over sexual assault allegations

President Donald Trump says it's "terrible" that Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California didn't raise allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sooner but says he's "totally supporting" his nominee.

Trump says he wants everyone to have the chance to speak out and Kavanaugh is "very anxious" to testify in his defense. He says, "we want to hear both sides."

A psychology professor named Christine Blasey Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied it.

Trump also says the FBI shouldn't be involved in investigating the Kavanaugh allegation "because they don't want to be involved."

He adds he's "totally supporting" and "very supportive" of his nominee, calling him an "outstanding" person.

Democrats have criticised the Kavanaugh nomination process.

The US president told media he is “totally supporting” his nominee, who he called “outstanding”. Source: Associated Press


As Australia's strawberry scare expands to apples and bananas, police offer big reward hoping for clues

Almost two weeks after a Queensland man was taken to hospital after biting into a strawberry with a sewing needle inside, the hunt for those responsible goes on.

The contamination has spread nationwide, with West Australian police confirming on yesterday that they were investigating claims a primary school student had bitten into a strawberry with a needle inside.

Starting this morning, all fresh strawberries being exported from Australia must be metal-contaminant free.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources announced the interim control measure yesterday evening in response to the growing situation.

"In order for strawberry export permits to be approved, exporters will be required to provide assurance to the department that their consignment is free from metal contaminants," the department said in a statement.

The family of one grower has shared the heartbreak of having to dump truckloads of strawberries. Source: Donnybrook Berries/Facebook

"These measures apply to fresh strawberry exports to all markets, and will remain in place until the risk of metal contaminants has been appropriately managed."

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For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

Yesterday's report was the fifth incident of needle-contaminated strawberries in WA.

The latest incident has led to the WA government following the Queensland government in offering a NZ $110,000 reward for information on the culprit or culprits.

"The motive appears unclear ... at the end of the day it's an act of treachery to the people of Australia," Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty told reporters, confirming NSW police were investigating at least 20 cases of needles being found in fruit including claims of needles being found in an apple and a banana.

The halt comes after needles were found in different brands in Australia. Source: 1 NEWS

Det Supt Doherty said perpetrators, including copycats and consumers falsely claiming a discovery, could face up to 10 years in jail for food contamination.

No-one has been charged in relation to the tampering.

In Queensland, struggling growers have been boosted by the announcement of a NZ $1.1 million fund to assist them through the crisis.

Horticulture body Growcom has implored consumers to keep buying strawberries.

"Hang in there with us and our saying will be 'cut it up, don't cut us out'," Growcom chief executive David Thomson said.

The scare is expected to result in a review of fruit handling, storage and packaging following the police investigations, Mr Thomson said.

NSW authorities are investigating more than 20 incidents of needles found in strawberries. Source: Breakfast

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Supporters call for fair trial for Sri Lankan university student held on terror charges in Australia

Family members, human rights activists and civic groups have gathered in Colombo to demand a speedy and fair investigation of a Sri Lankan student detained in Australia on suspicion of terrorism.

The New South Wales police website says Kamer Nizamdeen was arrested in Sydney on August 30 for allegedly planning to attack targets in the city and assassinate prominent people. Police say they found the alleged plans described in a notebook.

A support group, United for Kamer, planned a silent protest today to support their call for a fair trial for the 25-year-old student.

The group says Nizamdeen was working for the University of New South Wales and has been kept in solitary confinement since his arrest.

It says Nizamdeen denies what police say he wrote in the notebook.

A statement from the family read out at the protest said Kamer was allowed to contact one family member immediately after the arrest but thereafter denied access to legal counsel or family members.

The protesters silently held placards and banners with slogans about Kamer's innocence as well as the investigation.

Kamer Nizamdeen was arrested in Sydney last month for allegedly planning to attack targets in the city and assassinate prominent people. Source: Associated Press


Homeless man charged with US murder of top amateur Spanish golfer, whose body was found in course pond

A homeless man attacked and killed a top amateur golfer from Spain who was playing a round alone near her university campus in central Iowa, leaving her body in a pond on the course, police said today.

Collin Daniel Richards, 22, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Celia Barquin Arozamena, a student at Iowa State University. He was ordered jailed today on a $7 million, cash-only bond.

Barquin was found yesterday morning at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, about 50 kilometres north of Des Moines.

Police were called to the course around 10.20am to investigate a possible missing female after golfers found a golf bag with no one around it.

Officers found Barquin's body some distance from the bag, with several stab wounds to her upper torso, head and neck, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

Barquin, the 2018 Big 12 champion and Iowa State Female Athlete of the year, had no known prior relationship with Richards, Ames police Commander Geoff Huff said.

Richards, who faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted, reported in a financial affidavit that he has no job.

"We have had encounters with him in the past, " Huff told reporters at a news conference today.

"I don't have any specifics on him no about criminal record or how many incidents we've had with him."

The university said Barquin, a native of Puente San Miguel, Spain, was finishing her civil engineering degree this semester after exhausting her eligibility at Iowa State in 2017-2018.

Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen said in a statement on Twitter that she was "deeply saddened" by Barquin's death.

She was one of the most accomplished players in Cyclone golf history. In April, she became the second women's golfer at Iowa State to earn medalist honors at a conference tournament when claiming the 2018 Big 12 Championship. She did it with a three-shot victory.

It is the second fatal stabbing of a female student in Iowa in recent months.

An immigrant from Mexico is charged in the July 18 kidnapping and stabbing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, who vanished while out for a run in the small town of Brooklyn.

Celia Barquin Arozamena was playing a round in central Iowa when she was allegedly attacked by Collin Daniel Richards. Source: Associated Press