At least 60 Rohingya refugees feared dead after boat capsize tragedy

Half a million Rohingya have crushed into camps in Bangladesh in just over a month, fleeing a Myanmar army campaign and communal violence that the UN describes as “ethnic cleanising”.

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They have poured over on foot or crossed the Naf river which bisects the two countries in overcrowded boats.

One of them capsized in rough waters on Thursday agonisingly close to the shore.

The bodies of 23 people have been retrieved from the water so far but the death toll is expected to surge to around 60.

“Forty are missing and presumed drowned,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.

In distressing scenes, refugees on Friday held funerals for loved ones — among them children — who had left to seek sanctuary from violence that has cut through their homeland in Rakhine state.

A woman carried a small white bundle to a grave for a Muslim burial, while male relatives wept at a school building where bodies had been laid out.

“My wife and two boys survived, but I lost my three daughters,” Shona Miah, 32, told AFP.

0:00 IOM confirms 23 dead and 40 missing after Rohingya shipwreck Share IOM confirms 23 dead and 40 missing after Rohingya shipwreck

One toilet for hundreds

Those who have made it to Bangladesh have been squeezed into a vast makeshift refugee settlement that has become one of the world’s in a matter of weeks.

Medical staff say the camps are in imminent danger of disease outbreak, as relief groups are overwhelmed by the numbers of hungry and traumatised Rohingya.

A dire shortage of clean water, toilets and sanitation is spreading disease and pushing the camps to the precipice of a health disaster, the Red Cross warned.

“Our mobile clinics are treating more people, especially children, who are very sick from diarrhoeal diseases which are a direct result of the terrible sanitation conditions,” said Mozharul Huq, Secretary-General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.

In some of the camps hundreds of refugees are sharing a single toilet, said Martin Faller, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“The conditions for an outbreak of disease are all present – we have to act now and we have to act at scale,” he added.

The UNHCR says nearly one in five of arrivals is suffering from “acute malnutrition”.

Worsening conditions are compelling Rohingya to try to move out of the wedge of land Bangladesh has set aside for the new arrivals.

But Bangladesh police have stopped more than 20,000 Rohingya from going inland, a senior official said Friday, after authorities imposed travel restrictions on the refugees fearing they will move further into the country.

Though Bangladesh has hosted the refugees, it has urged Myanmar to allow a safe return for the Rohingya.

Myanmar says it is ready to begin repatriating refugees to a camp in the Maungdaw district of northern Rakhine.

But rights groups say the criteria for return is convoluted, discriminatory and carefully crafted to take back as few of the reviled minority as possible.

Many Rohingya do not possess the requisite documents to be allowed back or are unwilling to return to villages that have been burnt to the ground.

The Muslim minority are loathed in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and are instead branded ‘Bengalis’ — or illegal migrants who do not belong in the Buddhist-majoriy country.

End the ‘nightmare

‘Attacks on police posts in Rakhine state by Rohingya militant group on August 25, set the crisis in motion.

The kickback by Myanmar’s army killed hundreds and left scores of Rohingya villages in ashes.

Rohingya who fled saying they survived slaughter by soldiers and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who were once their neighbours.

Ethnic Rakhine and Hindus have also been displaced inside Rakhine, accusing Rohingya militants of atrocities.

Rohingya are still on the move and the UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that the “systemic violence” could spill further south to the central part of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, threatening a further 250,000 Muslims with displacement.

On Thursday, as the UN Security Council held its first meeting on Myanmar in eight years, he implored Myanmar’s leaders to end the “nightmare” faced by refugees.

But the council failed to agree on a joint resolution after China and Russia supported Myanmar’s right to defend itself.

International pressure has so far done little to rein in Myanmar army operations.

Access to the violence-stricken part of Rakhine is tightly controlled by the military, preventing international aid groups reaching desperate Rohingya left behind or independent reporting on the crisis.

‘Get out’: US Air Force general rebukes ‘bigots’ on campus

“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” Lieutenant General Jay Silveria said in an address to cadets, faculty and staff at the academy in Colorado Springs, footage of which has since gone viral.

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“You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being,” the academy’s superintendent said.

Five African-American students at the Academy’s Preparatory School found racist comments on dormitory message boards earlier this week.

One posted an image on Facebook showing a whiteboard with “Go home, nigger” written on it, and parents then alerted faculty.

“That kind of behavior has no place at the Prep School, has no place at USAFA (US Air Force Academy) and it has no place in the United States Air Force,” Silveria said.

“If you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” he said.

At the close of his remarks, the general invited those gathered to take out their phones and record his message.

If “you need my words, then you keep these words, and you use them and you remember them and you share them and you talk about them: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out.”

US Senator John McCain, a former naval officer who was held captive in Vietnam, tweeted a video of Silveria’s remarks, saying that it was an “important statement.”

Backdrop of racial tension 

“I agree, there’s no place for racism or bigotry in our military or this great nation,” McCain said.

The graffiti — and Silveria’s reply — come at a time of heightened focus on racism in the United States, a context he noted in his speech.

“We would… be tone-deaf not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country, things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL,” he said.

In mid-August, top military officers offered strong condemnation of racism after a violent neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally over the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

One woman was killed when an avowed white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of people after the Charlottesville rally turned violent, and numerous demonstrators were injured during the events of August 11 and 12.

The response of senior officers was in contrast to that of President Donald Trump, who suggested there was blame “on both sides,” and that there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist protesters — remarks that were widely criticized.

There have been heightened calls for the removal of other Confederate statues in the wake of the violence.

Ferguson is a suburb of St Louis that became the focus of national attention following the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown, which sparked demonstrations and a heavy-handed police response.

Protesters have recently taken to the streets in St Louis amid outrage over the acquittal of a white former police officer in the shooting death of a black man.

And NFL players are protesting against racism by kneeling during the national anthem before games — protests that have drawn repeated criticism from Trump.

Hugh Hefner: oppressor or liberator?

Oppressor or liberator? Feminist in a silk robe, or pipe-smoking exploiter? Opinions were flying a day after Hugh Hefner’s death over just what he did – and didn’t do – for women.

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On one side, there were those who saw Hefner’s dressing women in bunny costumes with cottontails on their rears, or displaying them nude in his magazine with a staple in their navels, as simple subjugation of females, no matter how slick and smooth the packaging.

On the other were those who felt the Playboy founder was actually at the forefront of the sexual revolution, bringing sexuality into the mainstream and advancing the cause of feminism with his stand on social issues, especially abortion rights.

“I think it’s disgusting,” said feminist author Susan Brownmiller, of the praise she’d been seeing on social media since Hefner’s death on Wednesday at age 91.

“Even some of my Facebook friends are hewing to the notion that, gee whiz, he supported abortion, he supported civil rights … Yes he was for abortion, (because) if you convince your girlfriend to get an abortion because she got pregnant, you don’t have to think about marrying her! I mean, that was his point.”

Most offensive to Brownmiller was what she called Hefner’s equating the word “feminist” with “anti-sex.”

“It wasn’t that we were opposed to a liberation of sexual morality,” she said, “but the idea that he would make women into little bunnies, rabbits, with those ears … That was the horror of it.”

For Kathy Spillar, executive editor of Ms Magazine, the accolades were a result of something deeper: a decades-long public relations strategy of Playboy to sanitise what she called an empire devoted to the subjugation of women.

“From the beginning, they tried to sell it as women’s liberation,” said Spillar, who also directs the Feminist Majority Foundation. “And so they made huge outreach efforts over the years to women’s rights groups.” But there was nothing liberating about it, Spillar said: “Those photographs of women certainly aren’t empowering of those women. They’re there for the pleasure of men.”

“He was right about one thing,” Spillar added. “Sex sells. But it sells to men. And to put women in those horrible costumes that Gloria Steinem wrote about! Talk about sexual harassment, talk a hostile work environment.” She was referring to the famous magazine expose that a young Steinem went undercover to write, training as a Playboy bunny in a New York club – bunny suit and all.

Hefner himself, obviously, saw it very differently. “The truth of the matter is the bunnies were the pre-feminist feminists,” Hefner told the Associated Press in 2011. “They were the beginning, really, of independent women. The bunnies were earning more money than, in many cases, their fathers and their husbands. That was a revolution.”

To Kathryn Leigh Scott, a former bunny at the New York club, much of what Hefner said then rings true. Scott trained at the club in January 1963, at age 19, she says, with six other bunnies, one of them Steinem. She said she had fun, and made good money. She later wrote a book, The Bunny Years, to counter the view that Steinem portrayed in her article.

“I did not feel exploited,” Scott says now. “As a matter of fact, I felt that I was exploiting Playboy – because I was earning very good money in a very safe environment, certainly safer than that many of my friends were working in at the time.”

Following Hefner’s death, many celebrities tweeted affectionate messages. “Thank you for being a revolutionary and changing so many people’s lives, especially mine,” wrote television personality and former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy. “We’ve lost a true explorer, a man who had a keen sense of the future,” wrote writer-producer Norman Lear. “We learned a lot from you Mr. Hefner.”

As for Steinem, who briefly wore that bunny suit in the early ’60s, she preferred not to comment so close to Hefner’s death.

“Obit time,” she wrote in an email, “is not the time for truth-telling. People will now be free to tell it, but later.”

NRL’s Bellamy says Smith human after all

It seems Cameron Smith is human, after all.

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Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has surprisingly revealed the recently crowned Dally M medallist isn’t always the model footballer.

Test and Queensland skipper Smith can do no wrong on the field this year after collecting a second Dally M 11 years after his first in a record breaking season.

There may be more spoils ahead, with the Storm unbackable favourites to end North Queensland’s giant-killing run in Sunday’s NRL grand final.

Smith has already been hailed as a future Immortal but Bellamy claimed his laid-back leader certainly wasn’t perfect.

“I remember early in both our careers … he used to get me very, very frustrated with his laid-back attitude,” Bellamy told Fox Sports’ NRL 360.

“I don’t think he is ever late for anything but often he would be 30 seconds early when everyone else was five minutes early.”

But it seems all is forgiven for Bellamy ahead of his seventh grand final and what he hopes is a third premiership for Melbourne.

“At times he did frustrate me a little bit but as time has gone on I balanced that out with what he has given me on the field, and what he has given to the other players,” Bellamy said.

“After what he has done you can take a little bit more of the laid-back attitude that he has got.”

Another premiership would cap a milestone season for Smith.

Smith, 34, rewrote the history books yet again when he became the oldest player to claim the Dally M Medal on Wednesday night.

This year he also overtook Darren Lockyer’s record for most NRL games and became the first man to play more than 40 State of Origin matches.

But former NSW captain Ben Elias said Smith’s greatness could not be measured in stats.

“He is methodical in every way. He is cool, he is calm even when they are getting beat by eight points,” he told NRL 360.

“That quality is just phenomenal in sport.

“If you can maintain your steel, stay composed, it has that wonderful effect on the others around you.”

Pay will be a success at Bulldogs: Bellamy

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy is predicting former assistant Dean Pay will be a success when he takes the clipboard for the first time in his coaching career at Canterbury.

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The former Bulldogs forward will on Friday be unveiled as the man to lead the club back to its glory days after his appointment was confirmed on Thursday.

His first head coaching gig comes after more than a decade serving as a right-hand man, first to Bellamy between 2010-12, and then for Ricky Stuart at Parramatta and Canberra.

Pay was coach of the Storm’s under-20s side for three years, where he mentored six players who will play in Sunday’s NRL grand final between Melbourne and North Queensland.

Kenny Bromwich, Slade Griffin, Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean all came through under Pay’s watch, as did Cowboys pair Justin O’Neill and Ben Hampton.

Bellamy said Pay’s strong ties to Belmore would also be key to the Bulldogs’ rebuild after Des Hasler was sacked for missing the finals for the first time in six years.

“Obviously he was a wonderful player for the Bulldogs, so he knows what the Bulldogs are about,” Bellamy said of Pay.

“That’s basically what their club wanted – someone that knows what the Bulldogs stand for. That seemed to be the reason perhaps Des (Hasler) isn’t there no more.

“Whether that’s a fallacy or whether that’s the truth, I don’t know.

“But Dean done a wonderful job for us with out under-20s, brought a lot of our young kids through. He’s a terrific bloke, a real decent guy. I’m sure he’d be a great success.”

Pay has also been credited for leading NSW State of Origin under-20s team to three straight wins over Queensland between 2012-14.

Among those teams were current Bulldogs stars David Klemmer and Adam Elliott, as well as Boyd Cordner, Dylan Walker, Jake Trbojevic, Mitchell Moses and Jack Bird.

Australia snare overdue ODI win over India

Australia stand-in coach David Saker says his side must improve their dire record overseas after breaking through for their first one-day international win away from home in more than a year.

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While India won the five-match series after winning the first three encounters, Australia snapped an 11-game away losing streak in Thursday’s fourth ODI in Bangalore.

David Warner’s 124 in his 100th match helped his side set India 335 to win, a target which the hosts fell 21 runs short of after some classy bowling at the death from Australia.

“We have to keep thinking about how to get better overseas because at the moment that’s just not good enough,” said Saker, who is standing in for Darren Lehmann.

“For a team with the talent we’ve got we need to get better at playing away from home.”

Before the victory, their most recent win on the road was in September last year over minnows Ireland in South Africa.

India were on target until an outstanding piece of fielding from skipper Steve Smith gave Australia a crucial breakthrough at 1-135.

His save at backward point sparked confusion between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who ended up at the same end as his partner before being run out for 65 at the other end.

Kohli edged an attempted late cut off Nathan Coulter-Nile onto his stumps on 21.

Legspinner Adam Zampa went for 41 off his first five overs, but bounced back with the vital wicket of Hardik Pandya (41) who was caught on the boundary by David Warner.

Australian pacemen Coulter-Nile, Kane Richardson and Pat Cummins were exceptional in the final overs with Kedar Jadhav (67) and Manish Pandey (33) departing and MS Dhoni (15) unable to rescue the chase.

Richardson took the wickets of Ajinkya Rahane for 53, as well as Jadhav and Dhoni, and finished with 3-58.

Earlier, a 231-run opening stand from Warner and Aaron Finch set a superb foundation after Steve Smith won the toss and chose to bat.

A mini-collapse stunted the momentum of the innings as Warner, Finch (94) and Smith (three) departed in the space of 14 balls with Australia losing 3-5.

Head never got going in his knock of 29 off 38 balls after being elevated ahead of Smith to bat at No. 3.

Peter Handscomb made a handy 43, while Marcus Stoinis chipped in with 15 from nine balls to round out Australia’s innings.

Kohli said the team had no regrets about resting the bulk of their front-line bowling attack with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav.

“We won the series and you have to try the guys out at some stage,” Kohli said.

“You need to test your bench strength as well.”

Aussies keep pace with McIlroy at Masters

Australian duo Jason Scrivener and Wade Ormsby sit alongside a relaxed Rory McIlroy as the Northern Irishman tries to end a disappointing season in style in the British Masters.

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Scrivener, Ormsby and McIlroy, who was a late entry into the STG3 million ($5.1m) event after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship, carded a three-under-par 67 to lie four shots behind leaders Tyrrell Hatton and George Coetzee at Close House.

But it could have been a different story for four-time major winner McIlroy if a spectator had not found his ball inside the five-minute time limit after a wild drive on the 17th, his eighth hole of the day.

McIlroy produced a superb recovery from thick rough to the elevated green and went on to make three birdies on the front nine in his penultimate tournament of an injury-plagued season.

“It’s not a bad way to feel,” the 28-year-old said. “You’re not really looking ahead at anything, you’re just concentrating on the round out there and not thinking about anything else.

“I feel like I’m not under any pressure to perform at all, I’m not putting myself under any pressure. That’s probably the reason I’ve went out there and shot a decent score.

“I think if you asked 75 per cent of the guys out here they would say it would be nice to have some sort of an off-season.

“I’m just giving myself an off-season this year and looking forward to improving my health, improving my game and becoming a better player in 2018.”

Tournament host Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter all shot 66, but Masters champion Sergio Garcia had to settle for a level-par 70. Defending champion Alex Noren finished one-over.

Brett Rumford was the next best Australian at one-over while Scott Hend (two-over), Nathan Holman and Sam Brazel (three-over) and Marcus Fraser (four-over) could be in danger of missing the weekend.

Boks seek redemption after NZ humiliation

South Africa have reacted to their humiliation at the hands of New Zealand by bringing back overseas-based flanker Francois Louw and gambling on utility back Dillyn Leyds for their Rugby Championship game against Australia.

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Coach Allister Coetzee, promising a strong response in Bloemfontein to the Springboks’ record 57-0 loss to the All Blacks two weeks ago, was also able to recall regular halfback Ross Cronje after illness.

Coetzee hopes it will be enough to repair the Boks’ shattered confidence after their heaviest-ever defeat and stave off renewed calls for him to leave the job.

Louw comes in at flanker for Jean-Luc du Preez and Leyds on the right wing for Raymond Rhule, who was severely criticised for his defensive performance against the rampant All Blacks in Albany. Chiliboy Ralepelle, who served a two-year doping ban, was brought in on the bench and could play his first Test since 2013.

Rhule and playmaker Francois Hougaard, who started two weeks ago, have paid the biggest prices for the 57-0 drubbing by being left out of the 23 completely. Rhule was sent back to his domestic team as Coetzee was forced to act after the worst of a string of embarrassing results in his 18-month reign.

“We know we had a substandard game, but we have put it behind us and are busy with our turnaround strategy,” he said. “The players and management have had a meeting, and we all want to make things right this week.”

The team had now “buried Albany,” Coetzee said. “That defeat won’t define us. We’re not going to sweep it under the carpet, but so far we have won five out of seven this season, and at times we’ve played outstanding rugby. What is key now is our response.”

Maxwell still Ashes chance despite ODI axe

Australia stand-in coach David Saker has denied Glenn Maxwell’s axing from the one-day international team is a sign his Ashes hopes are fading.

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The big-hitting Victorian was dumped for Thursday’s dead rubber in Bangalore where Australia posted their first ODI win away from home in more than a year.

“We’re just looking for people to perform and his last 20 games he probably hasn’t done that for us,” Saker said.

“In his position the way he plays he’s a big match-winner but it’s been a while since he’s done (that) for us especially in any consistent form.

“Maxi’s just got to get some numbers to justify getting picked.”

Maxwell is among a group of players vying to bat at No.6 during the Ashes with Marcus Stoinis, Hilton Cartwright and Moises Henriques all in the mix.

“None of our selection is looking forward to the summer,” Saker said.

Since the start of 2016, Maxwell has played 21 ODI innings scoring 500 runs at an average of 26.31.

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke hit out at selectors for dropping Maxwell.

“I thought these two games in particular were a great opportunity for Maxi to understand where he sits in the team,” Clarke told Indian broadcaster Star Sports.

“I thought it was a good chance to (bat him up the order) and make it clear to him … that if he doesn’t make a big score in the next two games, then you’re having a different conversation. Then he could be dropped.”

Clarke acknowledged Maxwell’s performances haven’t been up to scratch, saying Australian fans wanted such a talented player to be more consistent.

“But I think he’s too good a player to now allow him to just go back into the wilderness and go back to first-class cricket,” Clarke said.

“I think the leadership in the team needs to find a way to get the best out of Glenn Maxwell.”

Presidents Cup starts without controversy in front of three ex-presidents

A packed crowded in the grandstands surrounding the first tee warmly greeted Barack Obama, George W.

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Bush and Bill Clinton, keen golfers all, who entered via a tunnel and took their seats to the right of the first tee.

Singer-songwriter Darius Rucker then sang the U.S. national anthem as the American team members stood about 50 yards away down the fairway, standing to attention with their hands across their hearts, not even a whiff of protest in the air.

The scene was far removed from the controversy at National Football League games recently, in which many players have protested during the national anthem against racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

American veteran Phil Mickelson then stole the show by walking over and shaking hands with the three former presidents and taking a selfie.

Ceremonies over, it was down to golf, with the U.S. defending the Presidents Cup against an International team of players from the rest of the world, excluding Europe.

South African Charl Schwartzel had the honour of hitting the first shot in the opening foursomes match, in which he partnered Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama against Americans Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.

A group of about 40 International ‘fanatics’ — mainly Australians and South Africans supporting the visiting team — mischievously chanted: ‘Justin, you’ve got two first names, Justin you’ve got two first names’ as Thomas stood on the tee.

Obama, after shaking hundreds of hands and having a long chat with U.S. assistant captain Tiger Woods, departed adter the third match started but Bush and Clinton stayed until the end.

Clinton even had a few words with the media after the last match had teed off, talking about the difficultly of the first hole and the best way to play it in a strong wind.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Smith sparks crucial run out in India ODI

Steve Smith has emerged from a torrid run in the field to cause a match-turning run out which helped Australia to a breakthrough win in India.

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The Australia skipper’s dropped catches have cost his side during the five-match series, which India won by taking out the first three games.

But he was outstanding in the field during the fourth one-day international in Bangalore, doing his finest work at backward point with Glenn Maxwell dropped for the game.

Stand-in coach David Saker singled out Smith’s efforts after a victory which snapped a 13-match winless run outside of Australia.

“That was as good a fielding display as I’ve seen from anybody in the world,” Saker said.

“It was good he brought that sort of energy to the game”

A miraculous stop from Smith caught Indian opener Rohit Sharma off guard just as we was threatening to take the game away from the visitors.

He had smashed five sixes to race to 65 off 55 balls when he ended up at the same end as Virat Kohli, forcing Sharma to make a futile dash back to the non-striker’s end.

Smith’s initial throw fell to Handscomb who got the ball to bowler Kane Richardson to whip off the bails.

It was the fourth wicket Richardson was involved with, also picking up 3-58 from his 10 overs.

“I thought Kane Richardson was outstanding at the back end of the game,” Saker said.

Richardson, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile starved the Indian batsmen at the death, forcing mistakes which saw the run chase fall 21 runs short.

“I thought our last 10 overs was particularly good,” Saker said.

“The rest of the innings I don’t think we could have bowled as well as we could but I thought we held our nerve at the end.”

All Blacks cope with rival crowds by being best – Hansen

The teams meet at Velez Sarsfield on Saturday with New Zealand looking to retain their Rugby Championship title.

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The Pumas are seeking their first win at the 26th attempt, with one draw their closest effort 32 years ago.

The less experienced All Black players got a taste last Sunday of what to expect at Velez.

They felt the passion of Argentine supporters while attending a first division soccer match at the River Plate stadium where the All Blacks narrowly escaped defeat in 2001.

“The home crowd will be boisterous and passionate and just themselves. Some of the guys went to the soccer on Sunday and they experienced that,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told reporters on Thursday.

“We’ve got eight guys that haven’t been here before, so a lot of them went and what I do know is the only way to keep the crowd out of it is by playing well and that will quieten them down a bit,” he said before the team’s practice.

“So (the team’s) aim is to keep them quiet, but, you know, it creates an atmosphere which is really unique and one that we enjoy.”

Hansen said All Blacks learn quickly how to handle being favourites and the pressure a hostile crowd can generate.

“It is an everyday thing when you’re with the All Blacks. When you come in to the environment, whether you are a coach, a manager or a player you know that’s expected,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter who you play, you’re expected to win and win well and the quicker you can understand that and accept that, then the quicker you can deal with the pressure.”

(Writing by Rex Gowar, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Labor ‘open-minded’ on China’s Silk Road

Labor is keeping the door open on signing up for China’s ambitious new Silk Road plan.

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One Belt One Road is the superpower’s vast infrastructure blueprint to boost trade and cut transit times by forging a connection via the ancient Silk Road land route and sea routes with Eurasia, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Sixty-eight countries have signed up for the scheme including New Zealand but Australia is holding out, mostly over national security concerns.

In a speech to the Asia Society in Sydney on Friday, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen will flag support for potential Australian involvement.

He’ll argue the scheme “will have profound ramifications for years to come”.

“We will come to office if we win the next election with an open mind as to how Australia and China can best collaborate on the Belt and Road Initiative, with a clear-eyed approach to our respective national interests,” Mr Bowen will say.

“We will examine proposals on a case by case basis including considering how the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and the Belt and Road Initiative can best complement each other.”

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has also spoken favourably of the scheme and believes Australia should be more confident about harnessing its opportunities.

She maintains the Abbott government’s initial reluctance to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2014 was “timorous and self-defeating”.

Roads, railways, high-speed train networks, maritime ports and airports are among the projects the scheme is building and funding.

It’s open to all countries, not just those physically on the ancient trade routes.

There is $1.8 trillion worth of projects already initiated.

The scheme – which is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy – is more than seven times larger than America’s Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.