Macron greets Putin for first face-to-face talks

Macron welcomed Putin to the splendour of the Versailles palace outside Paris with a perfunctory handshake — after the 39-year-old made a point of outlasting US President Donald Trump when they clasped hands at the NATO summit last week.

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Putin’s visit is the latest test of Macron’s diplomatic mettle after the G7 talks in Sicily last week and the NATO summit in Brussels where he turned the tables on Trump by refusing to release the American leader’s hand for several seconds during the handshake for the cameras.

“It is essential to talk to Russia because there are many international issues that will not be resolved without a tough exchange with the Russians,” Macron said in Sicily.

Russia’s powerful ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said he hoped the meeting could help turn the page on the fraught relationship between Putin and Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande.

“Many things in the future will depend on the first meeting,” Orlov told Europe 1 radio.

“It is very important that we begin to dissipate the mistrust that has built up in recent years.” 

As a candidate, Macron had tough words for Russia, accusing it of following a “hybrid strategy combining military intimidation and an information war”.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has flexed its muscles with a series of war games involving tens of thousands of troops in areas bordering NATO Baltic states.

Macron told a French weekly that he was “not bothered” by leaders who “think in terms of power ratios”, citing Putin as an example along with Trump.

But Macron, who became France’s youngest president just three weeks ago, said he does not believe in “the diplomacy of public invective but in bilateral dialogue”.

Russian president meets the French president

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Not a single concession’ 

Macron said he would make “not a single concession” to Russia on the long-running conflict in Ukraine as he and his G7 counterparts said they were prepared to strengthen sanctions against Moscow.

Government forces have been battling Moscow-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine for over three years.

Western powers charge Russia with failing to honour its commitments under the Minsk accords framework for ending the hostilities.

France helped spearhead the sanctions, which have seriously dented EU-Russia trade, with a retaliatory Russian embargo on European agricultural products hurting French farmers.

The six-year-long Syrian conflict will also be high on the agenda, with Macron saying he was in favour of “building an inclusive political solution in a much more collective way”.

He regretted that none of the G7 states are party to Syria peace talks under way in the Kazakh capital Astana initiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Separate UN-backed negotiations have become bogged down in Geneva.

Russia is a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whereas, as Putin adviser Yuri Ushakov said before the visit, France “is among the countries with a very severe stance towards (Assad’s) regime”.

Coming so soon after an election in which the Kremlin was widely seen as backing Macron’s far-right rival Marine Le Pen — with Putin hosting her during a surprise visit to Moscow — the encounter in Versailles will have an added personal edge.

Moscow has also been blamed for a raft of cyberattacks on Macron’s election campaign, with aides accusing the Kremlin of mounting a “smear campaign” against him.

Putin was quick to congratulate Macron on his election, urging him to “overcome mutual distrust” and “join forces to ensure international stability and security”.

The visit comes seven months after Putin cancelled a trip to Paris for the opening of a Russian cathedral complex near the Eiffel Tower in a spat over Syria with Hollande, who had said Russia’s bombing of Aleppo could amount to war crimes.

In Versailles, Macron and Putin will inaugurate an exhibition marking 300 years of Franco-Russian ties since the visit of Russia’s modernising tsar Peter the Great to France in 1717.

After the talks and a joint news conference, Putin will visit the Paris Orthodox cathedral complex on his own.

Putin visits France, aims to mend ties

On a trip likely to shape Russia-France ties for years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in France for talks with newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron – the candidate he did not back in the presidential vote.

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The trip offers the Russian leader a chance to turn the page and try to establish a productive relationship with Macron as the Kremlin struggles to mend its bitter rift with the West.

Macron is the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the Group of Seven summit over the weekend, where relations with Russia were a key topic.

The Kremlin has hailed the visit as a chance for Putin and Macron to get to know each other and better understand their views on a range of disputed issues, including the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and Russia’s ties with the European Union.

During his G-7 news conference on Saturday, Macron promised to have a “demanding dialogue” with Russia, especially on Syria.

He called it a failure that European nations were not involved in the talks over Syria’s future but were being hit by its effects, including the huge number of Syrian refugees trying to get to Europe.

“We must talk to Russia to change the framework for getting out of the military crisis in Syria and to build a much more collective and integrated inclusive political solution,” Macron declared.

Macron’s invitation for Putin was a surprise after his tough stance on Russia during the French presidential campaign.

That contrasted sharply with his rivals, including far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon, who both backed ending Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis.

Macron’s aides also claimed Russian groups launched hacking attacks on his presidential campaign but Moscow has strongly denied all allegations of election meddling.

Putin, however, made his preferences in the French presidential election clear by hosting Le Pen at the Kremlin in March.

Putin also has frequently met with Fillon, the French prime minister from 2007-2012, and praised him as an experienced statesman.

Analysts say the visit to Paris offers Putin an opportunity to improve ties with France that had steadily deteriorated in the closing months of Socialist Francois Hollande’s presidency.

In October, Putin abruptly shelved a trip to Paris after Hollande alleged Russia could face war crime charges for its actions in Syria.

Hollande also refused to take part in the opening of the newly built Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center in Paris and was only interested in talking with Russia about Syria.

As part of his trip Monday, Putin is to visit the center near the Seine River that includes the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The site was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy amid criticism from rights groups.

Prior to that, Putin and Macron are to talk at Versailles and then tour an exhibition there marking the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s trip to Paris that was prepared by St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.

With Peter the Great widely seen as a ruler who modernized Russia and sought to open it up to the West, the exhibition offers a symbolic backdrop for both to talk about the importance of Russia-France ties.

Report warns of heart failure epidemic

The health system faces a tsunami of heart failure patients unless dramatic measures are taken to ensure Australians become healthier, a leading cardiac researcher warns.

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New modelling predicts there will be a 30 per cent increase in the number of Australians affected by heart failure by 2025.

Research fellow Professor Simon Stewart, director of the Mary MacKillop Institute of Health Research and director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence to Reduce Inequality in Heart Disease, led the research and says this is a conservative estimate.

“The scary part for us is that this is just modelling based on the ageing of the Australian population and the growth of the Australian population,” Prof Stewart said

It does not take into account any other heart failure risk factors like obesity and diabetes.

“Baby boomers who have entered old age now with these risk factors and untreated hypertension, which is another big thing, that is going to fuel this future epidemic of heart failure unfortunately,” he said.

In recognition of the growing need for treatment, a new drug known as Entresto will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from June 1.

But Prof Stewart warns the drug on its own is not enough to tackle this silent epidemic.

“This is certainly a welcome addition to the armoury of treatments we have and it will benefit many with heart failure but not all.

“We have to work on prevention, early detection and management is better than relying on these types of drugs to prolong someone’s life,” he said.

The new research, which was funded by pharmaceutical company Novartis, shows 511,000 Australians currently live with heart failure and each year 67,000 new cases are diagnosed, costing the healthcare system more than $5 billion a year.

Heart failure is when the muscles of the heart have been damaged in some way so that it either does not pump properly or it can’t relax properly to take in enough blood to supply around the body.

A heart attack, chronic high blood pressure and infection can all cause heart failure and shortness of breath is the main expression of the condition.

Prof Stewart likens heart failure – the “Cinderella of cardiovascular disease” – to a car engine that has worn out.

“It’s leaking in different spots and it’s not as efficient as it use to be and that does have a dramatic effect on a person’s quality of life and on longevity,” he said.

It’s time, Prof Stewart says, that governments regard heart failure as a serious issue because it’s the most common cause of premature death, more so than cancer.

“The figures tells us very clearly heart disease is not being given enough attention and heart failure being the Cinderella is bottom of the list,” he said.

He’d also like to see people look after their hearts better.

“We all die at some point but please don’t be the ones to die of heart failure – it’s a horrible thing to die from,” he said.

Black Lung will leave long shadow: Miller

Thousands of Queensland miners may be diagnosed with Black Lung in the coming years as the system catches up with decades of inaction on the issue.

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That’s the belief of Queensland Labor MP Jo-Ann Miller, who was the chair of the committee tasked with investigating the re-emergence of what was believed to be an eradicated disease.

The Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Select Committee handed down its report on Monday, making 68 recommendations, including the establishment of an independent authority to oversee safety in the sector in future.

But Ms Miller said with 30 years’ worth of under-reporting and misdiagnosis, there will be many affected workers identified in the months and years ahead.

“There’s a long latency period before people are disagnosed with Black Lung, so it could be 10, 15, 20 years or it could be two years,” she told AAP.

“We’ve got 21 miners who’ve been diagnosed with Black Lung, but we’re expecting there could be hundreds, if not thousands, diagnosed in the future.”

The inquiry’s work isn’t done, with the committee given extended terms of reference to investigate possible health effects on other workers, in particular those on Brisbane’s numerous tunnel projects who could be at risk of silicosis, a condition similar to Black Lung.

A second report into those expanded terms of reference is due on September 29.

Headed by Ms Miller and former LNP leader Lawrence Springborg, the committee was granted sweeping powers to draft its own legislation on issues surrounding Black Lung, with reforms expected to be introduced to state parliament in August.

South Africa seamers wreak havoc to secure consolation win

South Africa won by seven wickets but lost the series after defeat in the first two games as both countries prepared for the start of the Champions Trophy this week.

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Rabada and Parnell decimated the English top order in the opening five overs and rendered the contest effectively over with England teetering at 20 for six. It was the first time six wickets had been taken inside the opening five overs of an ODI.

England, who rested Ben Stokes and made four other changes after Saturday’s narrow victory in Southampton, were eventually dismissed for 153 after 31 overs to which the South Africans replied with 156 for three.

Hashim Amla scored 55 before being bowled by debutant Toby Roland-Jones and Quinton de Kock (34) fell in the next over to Jake Ball.

But JP Duminy (28 not out) and AB de Villiers (27 not out) saw their side through to victory with 20.1 overs to spare.

South Africa’s bowlers used the seamer-friendly conditions to maximum effect as England’s batsmen fell like skittles, the first six wickets all coming from pitched-up deliveries.

Rabada had out of form Jason Roy caught in the slips by Amla in the opening over and Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler followed in quick succession to catches.

Jonny Bairstow’s 51 saved England from the possibility of a worst ever ODI score. He struck eight fours off 67 deliveries, putting on 62 for the seventh wicket with David Willey and a further 52 with Roland-Jones, who was 37 not out at the end of the innings.

Bairstow was stumped off spinner Kershav Maharaj and England still had just under 19 overs to bat when Steven Finn chipped the ball to midwicket and was the last man out.

Hosts England get the Champions Trophy underway against Bangladesh at The Oval on Thursday while South Africa play Sri Lanka at the same venue on Saturday.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson, editing by Ed Osmond)

Qld teammates called 40 mark early: Smith

The milestone always seemed inconceivable to Cameron Smith.

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But the Queensland captain has revealed some Maroons teammates predicted he would be the first to play 40 State of Origins after just a handful of games.

Smith will make history when he runs out in Wednesday night’s Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium.

The Maroons hooker never thought the 40 game barrier would be broken, however, he revealed some Queensland teammates called it early.

“I may have played half a dozen games and I remember guys like Petero Civoniceva and Steve Price saying ‘mate you will be the first to play 40 Origins’,” Smith said.

“And I just laughed, shook my head and said ‘no one will ever do that’.

“It’s a really nice achievement to have.”

Not that Smith can truly savour the record on Wednesday night.

“When you are still playing it is hard to sit back and say ‘wow I am about to play 40 games’,” Smith said.

“My mind is thinking about what I need to do to get ready for this game.

“I am not sitting back patting myself on the back.

“But I do understand it is a fairly significant milestone.”

Despite starting his Origin career 14 years ago and being captain since 2008, Smith admitted he would be nervous ahead of the historic game.

“Part of the benefit of the experience of all the games I have is you learn to enjoy the week rather than stress about it,” he said.

“But on game day you get a few butterflies in the belly.

“When I am getting on to the bus on the way to the game, you see all the cars outside, everyone is going mad, that’s when I get a little bit nervous.”

Smith said it wasn’t just the milestone that had him excited about Origin I.

Smith will lead a new look Maroons missing more than 100 Origin games’ worth of experience against a Blues side who have become surprise bookies’ favourites.

Queensland – winner of 10 of the past 11 Origin series – will blood debutants Anthony Milford and Dylan Napa.

“I am really looking forward to this one,” Smith said.

“There is a lot of talk about the outcome of the match and different lineup for our side but I think that has created a lot of interest around the game.

“I think we are in for a pretty special game I reckon.”

Saker can be key to Aust cricket success

John Hastings believes Australia’s bowling coach David Saker’s knowledge of English conditions can be crucial to any potential success in the Champions Trophy.

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Saker worked with England for six years and is credited with transforming Jimmy Anderson from an inconsistent medium-pacer into one of the world’s finest exponents of swing bowling.

He also played a huge role in the development of Stuart Broad before returning home to Melbourne take up a job with Victoria in 2015 and then joining Darren Lehmann’s backroom team last year.

With Australia blessed with their most exciting crop of pace bowlers for years, Hastings said the role of Saker in honing that talent can be a huge advantage in a country where success has been thin on the ground for over a decade.

“Sakes is brilliant,” Hastings said.

“He’s the first to come and tell you what you are doing wrong but also when you are going well.

“There’s also his knowledge of English conditions, and I keep harping on about conditions, but it is really important over here.

“Some days it can be … swinging around, some days the sun can be out and It’s flat and it doesn’t do anything.

“You have to know what to expect and he has been a big part of that.”

Hasting has done well in England during spells with county sides Durham and Worcester but admitted he wasn’t entirely confident of being selected for the Champions Trophy squad.

The 31-year-old was furious at his omission for the New Zealand one-day series last December, despite being the world’s leading one-day wicket-taker in the calendar year.

A fractured kneecap then ended his season and he admitted he thought he might have run his race as an international player.

“Missing out on that New Zealand series was tough to take, no doubt,” he said.

“Then I got injured and missed the rest of the summer. So I was in a pretty flat spot at times during the Big Bash.

“The early diagnosis for my injury was quite bad and I thought that could have been it, no doubt.

“But once they got in there and had a look, it wasn’t so bad.

“Nine to 10 months came down to about four months so that Champions Trophy was well in my mind and I was glad to get through it.”

Disease threatens Sri Lanka flood victims

Thousands of survivors of devastating floods and landslides in Sri Lanka are at risk of potentially fatal diseases such as dengue fever, charities warn as the death toll from the disaster continues to rise.

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Torrential rains over the last four days have sparked widespread flooding and triggered landslides in southwestern parts of the Indian Ocean island.

At least 177 people have died and almost half a million others have had their lives disrupted.

As search and rescue teams look for more than 100 people who remain missing, and Sri Lanka’s military in boats and helicopters struggle to reach marooned villagers with food and clean water, charities are warning of a looming health threat.

“The threat of water-borne diseases is a big concern with over 100,000 people displaced from their homes, many of whom are staying in damp, crowded conditions,” Chris McIvor, head of Save the Children Sri Lanka, said.

“I’m particularly worried we could start seeing even more dengue cases because of the floods, as stagnant water provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. It’s the last thing needed by communities that have already lost so much.”

Outbreaks of diseases such as dengue fever and cholera, and illnesses like diarrhoea and dysentery, are often a threat in the aftermath of floods due to water-logging, say experts.

Dengue is common in South Asia, especially during the monsoon season which runs from June to September, and if untreated, it can kill.

Sri Lanka’s ministry of disaster management says almost 558,000 people from 15 of the country’s 25 districts have been hit by the disaster. Villages and towns have been inundated, thousands of homes damaged and agriculture land swamped.

Around 75,000 people in the worst-affected districts have been relocated to temporary shelters.

The Sri Lanka authorities have called for international assistance to help with search and rescue efforts, and have also appealed for aid ranging from boats, generators and mobile toilets to mosquito nets, clothes and clean drinking water.

But aid workers say reaching survivors remains a challenge. Entire communities remain marooned, living out in the open as their homes have been destroyed, with roads submerged under water or blocked by landslides.

“Getting in to these communities is of the highest priority right now so we can find out exactly what the needs are and respond,” said McIvor.

“At the same time more rains are predicted since we are only at the start of the south west monsoon season, so the situation could worsen even more over the coming days and weeks.”

Trudeau invites Pope to indigenous apology

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Pope Francis to visit Canada to apologise to indigenous peoples for the Catholic Church’s treatment of aboriginal children in schools it ran there.

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Starting in the late 19th century, about 30 per cent of children of Canada’s native peoples, or about 150,000 children, were placed in what were known as “residential schools” in a government attempt to strip them of their traditional cultures and ancestral languages.

For over a century, the schools were government-funded but many were administered by Christian Churches, the majority by Roman Catholics.

“I told him how important it is for Canadians to move forward on real reconciliation with the indigenous peoples and I highlighted how he could help by issuing an apology,” Trudeau told reporters after meeting the Pope on Monday.

He said he had invited the Argentine-born pontiff to make the apology in Canada.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in a 2015 report that the practice, which kept children from the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples far from their parents, amounted to “cultural genocide”.

Many children were physically and sexually abused.

The commission made 94 recommendations, including that the Pope issue a formal apology in Canada to survivors and their descendents for the Church’s “role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse” of the children.

Trudeau said that in their private talks, the Pope “reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated to supporting marginalised people in the world, fighting for them, and that he looks forward to working with me and with the Canadian bishops to figure out a path forward together”.

Canadian bishops have said the Pope might visit next year.

Trudeau said he and the Pope also discussed climate change. Unlike US President Donald Trump, who met the Pope last week, Trudeau and Francis agree that climate change is caused by human activity.

“We talked about how important it is to highlight the scientific basis of protecting our planet and the moral and ethical obligations to lead, to build a better future for all people on this earth,” Trudeau said.

At last week’s Group of Seven (G7) summit in Sicily, Trump refused to back a landmark international agreement reached in Paris in 2015 to reduce global warming.

Trump said he would decide this week on whether to pull out of the accord, which was backed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trudeau, who is Catholic, said he had “a deeply personal and wide-ranging, thoughtful conversation with the leader of my own faith”.

Macron, Putin hold ‘frank’ talks on Syria, Ukraine

France’s President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday vowed to improve the strained relations between their countries, while admitting to disagreements during talks at Versailles palace described by Macron as “extremely frank”.

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Their first meeting since Macron took office provided another test of the Frenchman’s diplomatic skills after his memorable first encounter last week with US President Donald Trump that Macron sealed with a vice-like handshake.

This time the handshake was warmer but the tone guarded after an hour of talks on the 300th anniversary of a visit to Versailles by tsar Peter the Great.

Putin admitted to some differences of opinion in the talks which covered issues including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, but insisted that Franco-Russian ties withstood “all points of friction”.

“We disagree on a number of things but at least we discussed them,” Macron said.

“Our absolute priority is the fight against terrorism and the eradication of terrorist groups and Daesh in particular,” he said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group that has claimed several deadly attacks in France.

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The newly elected French leader called for a stronger partnership with Russia on Syria, one of the sticking points in relations between the West and Moscow which backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Macron advocated “a democratic transition that preserves the Syrian state”, warning that “failed states” in the Middle East were a threat to the West.

But in an apparent warning to Assad and Russia, he said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” for his presidency and would draw an “immediate response” from France.

The pair discussed the Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its military involvement in Ukraine as well as allegations of Russian meddling in France’s election campaign.

Putin declared that the sanctions were “in no way” helping to end the fighting between government forces and Kremlin-backed rebels in Ukraine’s east.

The Russian strongman, who hosted Macron’s far-right rival Marine Le Pen for talks during the election race, also shrugged off allegations that Russian hackers infiltrated Macron’s campaign.

“Maybe they were Russian hackers, maybe they were not,” he said, dismissing the claims as unsubstantiated.

Macron, for his part, expressed anger at reports by pro-Kremlin media during the election questioning his sexuality and links to high finance.

He took aim at the Russia Today broadcaster and Sputnik agency, calling them “organs of influence and propaganda”.

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‘No concessions’

Putin’s visit comes after the 39-year-old French centrist made a successful debut on the world stage last week, holding his own against Trump at a NATO summit in Brussels and at a G7 summit in Italy.

Ahead of the visit, Macron told a French weekly that he was not “bothered” by leaders who “think in terms of power dynamics”.

He said he would make “not a single concession” to Russia on the long-running conflict in Ukraine, with he and his G7 counterparts saying they were prepared to strengthen sanctions against Moscow.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has flexed its muscles with a series of war games involving tens of thousands of troops in areas bordering NATO Baltic states.

Macron said he, Putin and the leaders of Germany and Ukraine would meet soon for talks, “which will allow us to make a complete evaluation of the situation”.

Modernising tsar

Western powers charge Russia with failing to honour its commitments under the Minsk accords framework for ending the violence in Ukraine.

France helped spearhead the sanctions, which have seriously dented EU-Russia trade. 

Putin moved quickly after the French election to try to smooth things over, congratulating Macron and urging him to work to overcome their countries’ “mutual distrust”.

Monday’s visit comes seven months after Putin cancelled a trip to Paris amid a row over Syria with Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande, who had said Russia’s bombing of Aleppo could amount to war crimes.

In Versailles, he and Macron inaugurated an exhibition marking the visit of Russia’s modernising tsar Peter the Great to France in 1717.

The fervently pro-Europe Macron said his invitation to Putin aimed to showcase “a Russia which is open to Europe”.

Putin was also later to visit a new Orthodox cathedral complex in central Paris.

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