Daily News Round-up

August 7, 2020

FRIDAY 7 AUGUST 2020


Lebanese authorities investigating a Beirut explosion that killed more than 150 people have taken the general manager of a port and 15 others into custody, sources say.

The blast at a port warehouse on Tuesday (local time) killed at least 157 people and injured thousands more.

State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody, with a judicial source and local media saying Beirut Port general manager Hassan Koraytem was among them.

The Prime Minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse that blew up.

Judge Fadi Akiki, a government representative at the military court, said authorities had questioned more than 18 port and customs officials and others involved in maintenance work at the warehouse, NNA reported.

“Sixteen people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation,” NNA quoted Mr Akiki as saying.

He said the investigation was continuing.

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Sydneysiders should be forced to wear masks and there is also a “strong case” for a stage 3 lockdown, says one expert who believes NSW shouldn’t risk a Victorian-style situation.

Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely told news.com.au that the number of “mystery cases”, where a source could not be found, was raising concerns.

While NSW’s daily case numbers appear to be dropping slightly to below 15 a day, there is generally at least one case a day where the source could not be found.

“NSW has done extremely well of trying to stamp out the outbreaks in the last 10 days,” Prof Blakely said.

“However, through no fault of the contract tracing teams, cracks are appearing – with both outbreaks spread geographically and a handful (and growing) number of ‘mystery cases’ of local transmission where the source cannot be found.

“This means the virus is spreading without always being detected. This is a serious problem that could quickly turn into a Victoria-like situation.”

On Thursday, NSW released an urgent alert for Newcastle residents after a COVID-positive man visited five pubs and a stadium over the weekend. It comes after outbreaks at venues including almost 200 cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel, Thai Rock and Apollo restaurants.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was on a “knife’s edge” and was about halfway through a critical period.

Speaking to Triple M Sydney’s Moonman in the Morning, the Premier said there are still about two or three weeks to go before NSW could exit this “critical period”.

“We are definitely on a knife’s edge, and we are about halfway through what is a really critical period,” she said.

“When we realised how bad Victoria’s situation was we know we had 4-6 weeks of a real nailbiting situation and we are about half way through.”

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America’s powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), one of Donald Trump’s major backers,has been sued by New York’s Attorney-General over allegations that high-ranking executives diverted millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.

The lawsuit filed in a Manhattan court by Attorney-General Letitia James alleges NRA leaders paid for family trips to the Bahamas, private jets and expensive meals that contributed to a $US64 million ($88 million) reduction in the NRA’s balance sheet in three years, turning a surplus into a deficit.

The lawsuit highlighted misspending and self-dealing allegations that have roiled the NRA and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, in recent years — from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17 million post-employment contract for himself.

Simultaneously, the Washington, DC, Attorney-General sued the NRA Foundation, a charitable arm of the organisation designed to provide programs for firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting safety, accusing it of diverting funds to the NRA to help pay for lavish spending by its top executives.

The lawsuit said Mr LaPierre, 70, spent millions of the NRA’s dollars on travel consultants, including luxury black car services, and hundreds of thousands of dollars on private jet flights for himself and his family, including more than $US500,000 ($691,000) on eight trips to the Bahamas over a three-year span.

Ms James, a Democrat, argued that the organisation’s prominence and cosy political relationships had lulled it into a sense of invincibility and enabled a culture where non-profit rules were routinely flouted and state and federal laws were violated.

Even the NRA’s own bylaws and employee handbook were ignored, she said.

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organisation went unchecked for decades while top executives funnelled millions into their own pockets,” Ms James said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the NRA is trying to remain relevant and a force in the 2020 presidential election as it seeks to help Mr Trump secure a second term.

ENDS