Whanganui woman explains letter requesting invite to Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding

Marie Shepherd wrote to Buckingham Palace hoping to get a commoners invite to the big day. Was it a joke? Source: Seven Sharp


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UK hits back after EU trashes May's Brexit plan

The British government on Friday accused the European Union of slamming the handbrake on Brexit negotiations, after the bloc said Prime Minister Theresa May's blueprint was unworkable.

European Council President Donald Tusk said bluntly at a meeting in Salzburg, Austria on Thursday that parts of May's plan simply "will not work," while French President Emmanuel Macron called pro-Brexit U.K. politicians "liars" who had misled the country about the costs of leaving the 28-nation bloc.

A rattled May insisted that her plan was the only one on the table — and that Britain was prepared to walk away from the EU without a deal if it was rejected.

The rebuff sparked British headlines saying May had been "humiliated," and a strong response from the U.K. government.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab accused the EU of rejecting Britain's proposals without offering "credible alternatives" and said the bloc had "yanked up the handbrake" on negotiations.

"For the negotiations to go forward they're going to have to take their hand off the handbrake," he said.

May's Downing St. office said the prime minister would make a televised statement on the Brexit talks on Friday afternoon. There was no indication of what she planned to say.

The rocky summit dashed British hopes of a breakthrough in stalled divorce talks, with just six months to go until Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.

The judgment of British newspapers was brutal. The broadly pro-EU Guardian said May had been "humiliated." The conservative Times of London said: "Humiliation for May as EU rejects Brexit plan."

The Brexit-supporting tabloid Sun branded bloc leaders "EU dirty rats," accusing "Euro mobsters" Tusk and Macron of "ambushing" May.

Despite all the heated British rhetoric, the EU's position is not new. May's "Chequers plan" — named for the prime minister's country retreat where it was hammered out in July — aims to keep the U.K. in the EU single market for goods, but not services, in order to ensure free trade with the bloc and an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

EU officials have been cool on the plan from the start, saying Britain can't "cherry-pick" elements of membership in the bloc without accepting all the costs and responsibilities.

Yet British politicians and diplomats were taken aback by Tusk's blunt dismissal of the Chequers plan on Thursday — and by his light-hearted Instagram post showing Tusk and May looking at a dessert tray and the words: "A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries."

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller said British officials shouldn't have been surprised.

Miller said the EU had "made it very clear where they stand and the U.K. has been so focused on its own infighting that they actually have not been listening."

"How can (May) have been so badly advised? It stinks of incompetence, the whole thing, when the moment of reality is only four weeks away," Miller told the BBC.

Tusk said Thursday that an EU summit on Oct. 18 and 19 would be the moment of truth, when an agreement on divorce terms and the outlines of future trade would be sealed, or would fail.

The biggest single obstacle to a deal is the need to maintain an open Irish border. Failing to do so could disrupt the lives of people and business on both sides, and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace.

Britain and the EU have agreed on the need for a legally binding backstop to guarantee there is no return to customs posts and other border checks. But Britain rejects the EU's proposed solution, which would keep Northern Ireland inside the bloc's customs union while the rest of the U.K. leaves.

May said that would "divide the United Kingdom into two customs territories." She said Britain "will be bringing forward our own proposals shortly" about how to break the impasse.

Dealing with the EU is only part of May's problem. Her Chequers plan also faces opposition from pro-Brexit members of her own Conservative Party, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who say it would keep Britain tethered to the bloc, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

The Salzburg summit has given them new energy. When the Conservatives meet for their annual conference on Sept. 30, they plan to push for May to ditch the Chequers plan, or face a challenge to her leadership.

Pro-EU politicians don't like the Chequers plan either, saying it will cut the U.K.'s vast services sector out of the single market.

Conservative lawmaker Stephen Crabb said that May — assailed from all sides — should keep her nerve.

"The first rule is, don't panic," he told the BBC. "One of the outcomes the EU leaders wanted from yesterday was for Britain to go away, push the panic button and re-think, but the prime minister needs to stick to her guns."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and British Prime Minister Theresa May wait for the beginning of the plenary session of the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, Thursday, September 20, 2018. Source: Associated Press


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127 dead after Tanzania ferry capsizes

Hundreds of solemn people watched Friday as body after body was pulled from a capsized ferry that Tanzanian authorities said was badly overcrowded and upended in the final stretch before reaching shore. The official death toll was 127 but horrified witnesses feared that would rise as a second day of searching neared an end.

President John Magufuli urged calm in the East African country with a history of deadly maritime disasters. And a criminal investigation began.

The MV Nyerere's capacity was 101 people but the ferry had been overloaded when it capsized Thursday afternoon, the government's Chief Secretary John Kijazi told reporters. He said those responsible will face charges.

At least 40 people had been rescued, he said, but the number on Friday barely rose. Dozens of security forces and volunteers wearing gloves and face masks had resumed work at daybreak after suspending efforts overnight, hauling bodies into wooden boats.

"More than 200 people are feared dead," based on accounts from fishermen and other witnesses, because passengers had been returning from a busy market day, Tanzania Red Cross spokeswoman Godfrida Jola told The Associated Press. "But no one knows" just how many people were on board.

Tanzanian ferries often carry hundreds of passengers and are overcrowded, and shifts in weight as people move to disembark can become deadly. Images from the scene showed the ferry's exposed underside not far from shore.

Bodies were lined up on plastic sheeting as hundreds of people pressed near the water's edge, watching the search efforts.

Pope Francis and a number of African leaders expressed shock and sorrow.

"His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt solidarity with those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and who fear for the lives of those still missing," the condolence telegram said, according to the Vatican.

The MV Nyerere, named for the former president who led the East African nation to independence, was traveling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe when it sank, according to the government agency in charge of servicing the vessels.

Worried residents on Friday waited for any word of survivors.

"We try to make calls to friends, relatives," a local guide, Paschal Phares, told the AP. He recalled how crowded his trip on the aging ferry had been last month: "Most of us were standing up. It was full."

Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where passenger boats are often said to be old and in poor condition.

In 1996, more than 800 people died when passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.

More than 300 people were on board the ferry on Lake Victoria in Tanzania when disaster struck just metres from shore. Source: 1 NEWS

Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania's Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.

Rescuers retrieve a body from the water near Ukara Island in Lake Victoria, Tanzania Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. The death toll rose above 100 after the passenger ferry MV Nyerere capsized on Lake Victoria, Tanzania state radio reported Friday, while a second day of rescue efforts raced the setting sun. (AP Photo)
Source: Associated Press

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Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang dies of illness at 61

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, the country's No. 2 after the ruling Communist Party's leader, died Friday after a serious illness, the government said. He was 61.

Quang passed away despite "utmost efforts to treat him by Vietnamese and foreign professors and doctors and care by the party and state leaders," the statement said. It said Quang died at a military hospital in Hanoi but did not elaborate on his illness.

The state-run online newspaper VnExpress quoted a former health minister and the head of a national committee in charge of leaders' health, Nguyen Quoc Trieu, as saying that Quang had contracted a rare and toxic virus since July last year and had traveled to Japan six times for treatment. He did not specify the virus.

Trieu said the president lapsed into a deep coma hours after being admitted to the National Military Hospital 108 on Thursday afternoon (local time).

"Japanese professors and doctors treated him and helped consolidate the president's health for about a year," Trieu said. "However, there are no medicines in the world that can cure the illness completely, instead it only could prevent and push it back for some time."

Quang hosted President Donald Trump during his first state visit to the communist country last year, when Trump attended a summit of Pacific Rim leaders.

U.S Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink praised Quang for his contributions to promote relations between the two former foes.
"His hosting of President Donald J. Trump's historic state visit to Hanoi in November 2017 helped advance the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership to new heights on the basis of mutual understanding, shared interests, and a common desire to promote peace, cooperation, prosperity, and security in the Indo-Pacific region," he said in a statement posted on the embassy's website.

Phil Roberston, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that Quang would be remembered for "a multi-year crackdown on human rights and putting more political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam than any time in recent memory."

Some 97 activists have been jailed as of April this year, according to Amnesty International.

The Communist Party tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule and often jails people for peacefully expressing their views, though Hanoi maintains that only law breakers are put behind bars.

Quang's last public appearance was at a Politburo meeting of the ruling Communist Party and a reception for a Chinese delegation on Wednesday. He looked frail on the state-run Vietnam Television broadcast.

Quang did not appear in public for more than a month last year, raising speculation about his health.

Born in northern Ninh Binh province, Quang attended a police college and rose through the ranks at the powerful Ministry of Public Security before being appointed minister in 2011.

A career security officer and four-star general, Quang was elected president in April 2016 by the Communist Party-dominated National Assembly, effectively becoming the second most powerful man in the country after General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

The National Assembly is scheduled to convene a session next month and expected to elect a new president.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang meets with Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the Presidential Palace during the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi, Vietnam. Official media say Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang has died at age 61 due to illness on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Tran Dai Quang. Source: Associated Press


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'It's really going to take off from here' - Audi launch first ever electric car

Car manufacturer's Audi have launched their first ever electric car in San Francisco, showing off their new creation earlier this week.

Seven Sharp's Michael Holland was there at the release in the California city, the same location that Tesla pioneer Elon Musk launched his creation to the world.

Watch the video above for more.

Seven Sharp’s Michael Holland was there. Source: Seven Sharp


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