Australian Serb ‘Captain Dragan’ jailed for 15 years over war crimes

Dragan Vasiljkovic, known as “Captain Dragan”, was extradited by Australia to Croatia two years ago after a decade-long legal battle.

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The court in the coastal town of Split found Vasiljkovic guilty of torturing detainees in the ethnic Serb rebel stronghold of Knin and a deadly attack on the central town in Glina at the beginning of the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.

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He was charged with setting up an “improvised prison” at the Knin fortress in mid-1991.

There, his subordinates tortured detained Croatian policemen and civilians by “beating them with hands, feet and ox tendons… pushing guns in their mouths”, the indictment said.

Dragan Vasiljkovi and the president of the ultra-national Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj (2-L) at the battle field in Benkovac city in Croatia, in 1991.AAP

“All witnesses described in a similar way difficult conditions in which they were held … by members of a paramilitary unit commanded by Dragan Vasiljkovic,” judge Damir Romac said.

Velibor Bracic, a former Croatian soldier detained at Knin in 1991, testified how Vasiljkovic personally beat him while showing his subordinates how to do it properly.

“He told the guards ‘If you want to beat him this is how you will do it’ and kicked me with his leg in the head,” Bracic told the tribunal during the trial.

Vasiljkovic was also found guilty of orchestrating a 1991 attack on Glina and the surrounding region, in which a civilian and a German reporter were killed, while local people had to flee their homes.

Vasiljkovic was foundguilty of the killings and torture of civilians and Croatian troops while he was a rebel Serb commander between 1991-95 war in Croatia. AAP

He was acquitted on charges of ordering the 1993 torture and killing of two detained Croatian soldiers in a village in the country’s south.

Vasiljkovic, 62, pleaded not guilty and labelled the trial an “obsessive fascist persecution”.

“Neither I committed the crimes stated in the indictment nor they occurred,” he told the tribunal recently.

Vasiljkovic’s attorneys, who had insisted that as a Serbian national he was not treated fairly, said they would appeal the verdict, national radio reported.

In Australia, where he was first arrested in 2006, Vasiljkovic worked as a golf instructor under the name Daniel Snedden.

Croatia’s proclamation of independence from the former Yugoslavia sparked the 1991-1995 war with Belgrade-backed rebel Serbs. The conflict claimed around 20,000 lives.

 

Mickelson proud of longevity as he prepares for 12th Presidents Cup

Mickelson will play his 12th consecutive Presidents Cup when he tees up at Liberty National on Thursday against an International team from the rest of the world, excluding Europe.

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He has not missed a Ryder Cup either since his debut in 1995, which means he will make his 23rd team appearance for the red, white and blue, a remarkable record not just of sustained excellence, but also of having avoided serious injury.

He had to rely on a wild card pick by captain Steve Stricker this year, something few would begrudge him.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, to continue to be a part of this,” the 47-year-old Californian said on Tuesday.

While some observers think the Presidents Cup needs the International team to win occasionally to boost the status of the event, Mickelson does not quite see it that way.

“I don’t think so, no,” he said when the question was posed. “If you look at the talent on the International team, it is strong and it is deep and if we open the door and give them an opportunity it will bite us.”

Mickelson has won five major championships, and probably would have captured considerably more if his career had not coincided with that of Tiger Woods.

“He’s Phil Mickelson for a reason but I think I lot of people don’t realise how good he is,” said Australian Jason Day, a member of the International team.

“I think Tiger kind of overshadows his career a little bit. If there was no Tiger, I wonder have many times Phil probably would have won.

Day described Mickelson as “one of the best players that ever lived” and expressed awe at his longevity as a player in the Presidents Cup since it started in 1994.

“That is probably one of the best accomplishments you could have, because it means you were consistent from 1994 all the way up to 2017. That’s hard to do.”

(Reporting by Andrew Both)

Larissa Waters could return to the Senate after citizenship debacle

Former Greens senator Larissa Waters could make an early return to parliament if the High Court agrees with arguments being put forward by the Commonwealth.

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The government has filed its official submission on the seven federal politicians who have been referred to the court over their citizenship status.

It argues only One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and former Greens senator Scott Ludlam were wrongly elected, while the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan, crossbencher Nick Xenophon and Ms Waters should not be disqualified.

The submission, on behalf of Attorney-General George Brandis, contends that Senator Roberts and Mr Ludlam did not take all reasonable steps to renounce their respective British and New Zealand citizenship before being nominated.

Under section 44 of the constitution, “a subject or a citizen … of a foreign power” cannot stand for parliament.

The Commonwealth believes that should apply only to those who have “voluntarily obtained or retained” their status.

That would preclude five of the politicians – minus Senator Roberts and Mr Ludlam – all of whom were not aware they were or ever had been a foreign citizen, the submission says.

0:00 Greens Senator Larissa Waters says surprise dual citizenship rules her out of parliament Share Greens Senator Larissa Waters says surprise dual citizenship rules her out of parliament

Ms Waters resigned in July upon discovering she still had Canadian citizenship but could return if the High Court agrees with the Commonwealth and she is nominated to replace herself by the Queensland Greens.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale is keen for her to return.

“She’s a wonderful MP, a wonderful human being and she’s made a great contribution to the parliament,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

Senator Di Natale was not surprised by the government’s arguments for why its MPs and senators should not be disqualified.

“The government has basically decided it doesn’t want to play by the rules,” he said.

“The government’s view is there will be rules for everybody else and a separate set of rules for themselves.”

The matters will go before the full bench of the High Court on October 10.

Uber goes to UK tribunal on worker rights

Uber is expected to tell a British employment appeal tribunal on Wednesday that its drivers are self-employed and not workers entitled to a range of extra benefits.

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It comes as London officials threaten to take the app’s licence to operate away because of what it says is Uber’s slack approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

It can operate during its appeal, which could last months.

Last year, two drivers successfully argued at a tribunal that Uber exerted significant control over them to provide an on-demand taxi service and had responsibilities in terms of workers’ rights.

At the two-day appeal hearing starting on Wednesday Uber will argue its drivers are self-employed and work the same way as those at long-established local taxi firms.

The self-employed are entitled to only basic protections such as health and safety, but workers receive benefits such as the minimum wage, paid holidays and rest breaks.

Those in a third category, called employees, receive all those entitlements as well as other benefits such as statutory sick pay and maternity or paternity leave.

“Almost all taxi and private-hire drivers have been self-employed for decades before our app existed,” an Uber spokesman said.

“Uber drivers have more control and are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts or minimum hours,” he said.

Trade union-led protestors are expected to march through central London on Wednesday against what they deem “precarious labour” in the ‘gig economy’, where people work for various employers at the same time without fixed contracts.

Uber faces a further challenge as law firm Leigh Day said it would represent a female driver who says Uber is putting her and other women at risk as the driver does not know the passenger’s destination until they are already in the car and that could mean travelling to a remote or unsafe area.

An Uber spokesman said drivers could cancel trips without penalty and did not have to go to a particular area if they did not want to.

Spain targets polling stations as Catalan referendum nears

With five days to go until the October 1 vote, the clash between Catalonia’s pro-separatist government and Madrid was increasingly being played out in the arena of logistics and international opinion.

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During a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Washington, Trump said it would be “foolish” for Catalonia not to stay in Spain.

“You’re talking about staying with a truly great, beautiful and very historic country,” he added as Rajoy stood at his side.

Rajoy urged Catalan officials to return to “common sense” even as Madrid stepped up its effort to stop the vote from going ahead.

0:00 Catalan parliament president accuses Spanish government of generating fear Share Catalan parliament president accuses Spanish government of generating fear

The chief prosecutor in Catalonia ordered police to seal off buildings that will house polling stations before the day of the referendum and deploy officers on the day of the vote to prevent ballots from being cast.

The move comes a day after he ordered regional police to identify those in charge of polling stations on Sunday, when the referendum is to be held.

“The order has been conveyed and it will be executed with all normality,” a spokesman for Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, told AFP.

To ensure they will cooperate, Spain’s interior minister this weekend put Catalonia’s regional police force under its supervision.

‘Losing the battle’

By focusing on polling stations, prosecutors appear to have put in place a plan that targets all the logistics needed to stage the referendum, which has been deemed illegal by Madrid.

Prosecutors have also threatened Catalan mayors who provide locations for the vote with criminal charges, as well as directors of schools and universities.

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The election commission set up by Catalan separatists to oversee the vote has resigned after Spain’s Constitutional Court threatened to impose daily fines of 12,000 euros ($14,100).

Police have seized nearly 10 million ballots for the vote and have closed down 59 websites that provide information about the referendum. 

Another 85 sites are in the process of being closed, judicial sources said.

Faced with these actions, the separatist leaders of this wealthy northeastern region of Spain, home to around 7.5 million people, have accused Madrid of “repression”.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont during a rally in Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona, northeastern Spain, 26 September 2017.AAP

The website of the foundation of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco “remains operational” but not the referendum websites, said Catalangovernment spokesman Jordi Turull.

The central government argues that it is simply applying the constitution, which does not allow this type of referendum, just as in neighbouring France and Italy.

Spain’s democratic constitution of 1978, which was approved by more than 90 percent of Catalan voters, gave wide autonomy to the regions but affirmed “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”.

‘Vote en masse’

Rajoy has pulled out of an informal summit of European Union leaders in Estonia on Friday so as to be able to attend the last meeting of his cabinet before the referendum.

He also announced that the crisis would delay the national budget but ruled out fresh elections.

“I’m not thinking about calling early elections as a result of what we were seeing,” he said in Washington.

A member of a castelle holds a placard reading in Catalan “We want to vote”, as she crowned the human tower in Sant Jaume square in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday.AAP

As the date of the referendum nears, tensions are rising.

In Huelva in the southwestern Spain, Guardia Civil officers dispatched to Catalonia for the referendum were cheered on by hundreds of locals with cries of “Go for them!” and draped them with Spanish flags.

In Barcelona, residents have been giving out red carnations to regional police.

Spain has deployed two-thirds of its riot police to Catalonia, some 2,000 officers, for the referendum, according to daily newspaper El Pais.

Despite the crackdown, Catalonia will vote on Sunday in an independence referendum, regional foreign minister Raul Romeva told AFP.

“People will go out and vote en masse, peacefully on Sunday,” he said. “I don’t have any doubt.”

0:00 It should remain united: Trump on Catalan referendum Share It should remain united: Trump on Catalan referendum