Vladimir Putin's ex-bodyguard says he'll 'make a good juicy beef steak out of' opposition leader

In an extraordinary public outburst, President Vladimir Putin's former bodyguard and chief of the National Guard overnight challenged opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a duel.

Viktor Zolotov recorded an emotional seven-minute speech, posted on the National Guard's YouTube channel, attacking Navalny for his investigation into large-scale corruption at the National Guard. Zolotov admitted "shortcomings in terms of corruption" in his governmental agency but rejected Navalny's claim that he personally profited from the shady deals.

Navalny, Russia's most popular opposition leader, is currently in jail serving a 30-day sentence for organising an unsanctioned public protest. Last month he published an investigation alleging that at least $29 million had been stolen in procurement contracts for the National Guard.

Navalny rose to prominence thanks to his investigations uncovering official graft and has spearheaded mass anti-government protests across Russia, rattling the Kremlin. Rallies took place on Sunday in all of Russia's 11 time zones, and the National Guard's riot police violently cracked down on the protests in some of the cities.

The 64-year old Zolotov, who rarely makes public appearances, took to YouTube to vent his frustration with the opposition leader. Zolotov said he was insulted by Navalny's allegation and felt compelled "as an officer" to challenge him to a duel:

"I'm simply challenging you to a fight: to a ring, to a tatami, anywhere where I promise I will make a good juicy beef steak of you," Zolotov said, seated at the desk and shaking his fist.

Zolotov served in Putin's security detail for 13 years and is believed to be one of the president's closest allies.

His Tuesday speech is a radical departure from the usual Kremlin policy of avoiding mentioning Navalny's name in public. Over the years Putin has ignored Navalny's investigations and protest rallies, refusing to even call him by his name.

However, Navalny has run into trouble with Russian law enforcement as his prominence has grown. He was convicted on two separate sets of charges and his family members and allies have faced criminal prosecution.

The Kremlin dismissed suggestions that it encouraged Zolotov to make his statement.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that Zolotov did not run his speech by the president and that the Kremlin doesn't view it as a physical threat to Navalny. Peskov called Navalny's investigation "shameless lies" and supported Zolotov's outburst, saying that "sometimes you need to fight shameless libel with all possible means."

While most of Navalny's allies treated Zolotov's statement as a joke, others saw chilling overtures in the former bodyguard's emotional appeal.

"Zolotov's public threats against Navalny should be taken without any irony," said Ilya Yashin, an opposition activist and close friend of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Yashin referred to Zolotov's close ties to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov whom the opposition considers to be behind Nemtsov's 2015 murder: "Because of the Nemtsov case we know how the Chechen bandits react when their friends feel offended."

In this video grab taken from Rosguardia official website, National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov speaks as he records an emotional speech, posted on the National Guard's YouTube channel in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. President Vladimir Putin's former bodyguard and chief of the National Guard has challenged opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a duel. (Rosguardia Press Service via AP)
National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov speaks as he records an emotional speech, posted on the National Guard's YouTube channel Source: Associated Press



Baby squirrels in the US freed from tail tangle

Baby squirrels in the US state of Wisconsin have been freed after their tails became dangerously tangled together.

They were handed in at the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre which worked to save the lives of the five young grey squirrels.

They became entangled with grass and plastic strips their mother used to build a nest.

The squirrels were cut free with scissors while under anaesthetic.

"You can imagine how wiggly and unruly this frightened, distressed ball of squirrely energy was, so our first step was to anaesthetise all five of them at the same time," the centre told the BBC.

Then they began unravelling the "Gordon Knot".

"It was impossible to tell whose tail was whose, and we were increasingly concerned because all of them had suffered from varying degrees of tissue damage to their tails caused by circulatory impairment.

"The creatures will soon be free to resume a tangle-free life in the wild," the centre said.

Baby squirrels in Wisconsin have been freed after their tails became dangerously tangled together. Source: rnz.co.nz

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Woman lucky to be alive after shark takes 'big chunck' of her leg off Queensland coast

A Tasmanian mother on holiday in north Queensland's Whitsunday Islands region is lucky to be alive after a shark mauled her leg.

Justine Barwick, 46, was snorkelling at Cid Harbour on Wednesday when the attack happened leaving her with a severe wound to her left thigh and minor wounds to her calf.

Ms Barwick, a mother of two, would likely have bled to death without the quick- thinking actions of people in nearby boats.

In a second stroke of luck a rescue helicopter scrambled to the region was just 15 minutes away from the scene due to an earlier operation they'd been undertaking.

The hovering chopper drew the attention of John Hadok, an emergency department doctor from Mackay Base Hospital, who was sailing nearby and soon joined the effort to save Ms Barwick's life.

Dr Hadok's direction ensured correct first aid was given to Ms Barwick, allowing her to be safely winched into the helicopter.

RACQ CQ Rescue Helicopter crewman Ben McCauley said the doctor and others who gave first aid to Ms Barwick before she was winched aboard had likely saved her life.

"The original first aid was actually really well done," Mr McCauley told reporters today.

"We actually didn't have to do anything with the leg, it was pretty much tourniqueted up, bandaged up and bleeding had stopped. They'd done a really good job."

Although he didn't see the wound, Mr McCauley was told Ms Bariwck had "quite a big chunk of leg taken" and had suffered arterial bleeding.

She also suffered puncture wounds to her calf muscle.

The helicopter then stopped at Proserpine to refuel, allowing blood from a local hospital to be transfused and other medical treatment given.

Just after 8pm Ms Barwick arrived at Mackay Base Hospital where she remains in a critical condition on Thursday morning after overnight surgery.

Her husband Craig is at her bedside.

Ms Barwick works for non-profit Family Based Care in Burnie and had travelled to the Whitsundays on a holiday with her husband and friends.

Family Based Care chief executive Doug Doherty said Ms Barwick and Craig were regular visitors to the popular tourist destination in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

"It didn't surprise me, because she is such a fighter, when she was being taken off the rescue helicopter and taken into hospital she was telling them what she was allergic too and still able to give directions," Mr Doherty told AAP.

"That sounds like Justine to me."

Sharks (file picture). Source: istock.com

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US federal agency admits losing track of 1,488 'vulnerable' migrant children

Twice in less than a year, the US federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.

The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June.

That number represents about 13 per cent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.

The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April.

Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.

"The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn't know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling," Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel's chair, said.

"Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable."

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were "lost".

"Their sponsors, who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them, simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made," she said in a statement.

Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.

Yesterday, members of a Senate subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the agency to take responsibility for the care of migrant children, even when they are no longer in their custody.

An Associated Press investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay.

At the time, many adult sponsors didn't undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking.

Since then, HHS has boosted outreach to at-risk children deemed to need extra protection, and last year offered post-placement services to about one-third of unaccompanied minors, according to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But advocates say it is hard to know how many minors may be in dangerous conditions, in part because some disappear before social workers can follow up with them and never show up in court.

The legislation comes as the Trump administration faces litigation over its family separation policy at the US-Mexican border, which while it was in effect sent hundreds more children into the HHS system of shelters and foster care.

Some of those children have since been reunited with their families, while others have been placed with sponsors.

Oakley did not respond to questions regarding whether any of the children who the agency lost track of had been separated from their families before they were sent to live with sponsors.

The legislation is aimed at ensuring HHS does more to prevent abuse, runs background checks before placing children with sponsors, and notifies state governments before sending children to those states, the bill's sponsors said.

"The already challenging reality migrant children face is being made even more difficult and, too often, more dangerous," said the panel's top Democrat, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.

"This simply doesn't have to be the case and, as this legislation demonstrates, the solutions don't have to be partisan."

The White House has accused Democrats and the media of exploiting the photo. Source: US ABC / 1 NEWS


Aussie Woolworths taking sewing needles off shelves to combat strawberry-tampering

Supermarket giant Woolworths has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing sewing needles from its shelves nationally following the fruit tampering crisis.

"We've taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale in our stores. The safety of our customers is our top priority," a Woolworths spokeswoman told AAP.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.

The drastic decision comes as Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the "parasites" responsible for spiking strawberries with needles should do hard time in jail.

The Government is rushing legislation through Parliament to ratchet up the maximum penalties for so-called "food terrorists" from 10 to 15 years behind bars.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the tough sanctions approved before federal politicians depart Canberra today.

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

"I'm just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous," Mr Morrison told reporters in Royalla in NSW.

"We've booked the hall in Parliament for the day, we've paid the rent on it, and that means no one goes home until those bills are passed."

Labor will support the bill, but frontbencher Tony Burke wants the laws reviewed after 12 months.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus agrees, saying there has been very "little time to fully consider what the consequences of this legislation might be."

He told parliament that unintended consequences may occur by including "providing the public with food" in the revised definition of "public infrastructure".

Rebuilding confidence in the strawberry industry is the highest priority, says Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as he encouraged Australians to continue buying the fruit.

"Grab a punnet for yourself and a punnet for the nation," he said.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton condemned people being stupid or malicious.

"The police are being driven crazy by all of these hoaxes because all it does is divert their resources away from the main investigation," he told 2GB radio.

Anyone who tampers with food could soon face up to 15 years' jail, in line with child pornography and terror financing offences.

There will also be a new offence of being reckless in causing harm, which will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The most serious cases with national security implications will be covered by sabotage offences, with penalties ranging from seven to 25 years' jail.

"The reality is that ... they've got to do some time," Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.

"The one thing that people can do better than government is go and buy strawberries. Stick it up these parasites by going into the supermarkets and buying strawberries."

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

The government is also providing $1 million to make more food safety officials available to increase detection, fast-track recalls and assist the industry to rebuild confidence.

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