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Australians decisively support same-sex marriage

Australians have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in a historic non-binding poll.

The vote showed 61.6% of people favour allowing same-sex couples to wed, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

More than 12.7 million people - about 79.5% of eligible voters - took part in the eight-week postal survey.

PM Malcolm Turnbull said the "overwhelming" result meant his government would aim to change the law in parliament before Christmas.

"[Australians] have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality," he said after the result was announced.

"They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love. And now it is up to us here in the parliament of Australia to get on with it."

Supporters began celebrating the result in public spaces across Australia on Wednesday, waving rainbow flags and singing and dancing.

Mr Turnbull, a same-sex marriage supporter, is facing debate within his government over what the parliamentary bill should include.

Some conservative MPs are pushing for the the bill to include exemptions that would allow businesses opposed to same-sex marriage to refuse goods and services for weddings.

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version.

Tens of thousands in HK march vs China’s ‘authoritarian rule’

Pro-democracy activists carry a banner reading "no fear", during a protest on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
HONG KONG — Tens of thousands marched in China-ruled Hong Kong on Sunday in an “anti authoritarian rule” march that called for the resignation of the city’s top legal official over the recent jailing of young democracy activists.

The march, an annual fixture over the past few years on China’s October 1 National Day, comes at a time of nascent disillusionment with Hong Kong’s once vaunted judiciary.

“Without democracy, how can we have the rule of law,” the crowds yelled as they marched through sporadic downpours, from a muddy pitch to the city’s harbor-front government headquarters.

Organizers estimated about 40,000 people joined the march.

Many protesters, some clad in black, expressed dismay with Hong Kong’s Secretary of Justice, Rimsky Yuen, who Reuters reported had over-ruled several other senior public prosecutors to seek jail terms for three prominent democrats: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

“We believe he (Yuen) has been the key orchestrator in destroying Hong Kong’s justice,” said Avery Ng, one of the organizers of the rally that drew a coalition of some 50 civil and political groups.

Around one hundred Hong Kong activists are now facing possible jail terms for various acts of mostly democratic advocacy including the “Umbrella Revolution” in late 2014 that saw tens of thousands of people block major roads for 79 days in a push for universal suffrage.

RULE OF LAW

While the October 1 march is a regular annual fixture, this was the first time the rule of law has been scrutinized like this, with the judiciary — a legacy of the British Common Law system — long considered one of the best in Asia and a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economic success.

“It’s like mainland (Chinese) laws have intruded into Hong Kong,” said Alex Ha, a teacher of classical guitar, who was walking alone in the crowd.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index last week downgraded Hong Kong’s judicial independence ranking by five spots to number 13 in the world.

In response, however, Yuen stressed at the time that Hong Kong’s judiciary remained strong and independent.

“We cannot rely on subjective perceptions, we have to look at the facts,” he told reporters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that Beijing would grant the city a high degree of autonomy and an independent judiciary under a so-called “one country, two systems” arrangement.

But over two decades of Chinese rule, differences have deepened between Communist Party leaders in Beijing and a younger generation of democracy advocates, some of whom are now calling for the financial hub to eventually split from China.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam spoke of a need for unity during a speech to assembled dignitaries at a National Day reception to mark the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Communists.

“As long as we capitalize on our strengths, stay focused, seize the opportunities before us and stand united, I am sure that Hong Kong can reach even greater heights,” she said.

Mexico: Strong earthquake topples buildings, killing scores

A strong earthquake has struck central Mexico, killing more than 130 people and toppling dozens of buildings in the capital, Mexico City.
Rescuers are searching for survivors and there are reports of children trapped in a partly collapsed school.
The 7.1 magnitude quake caused damage in Morelos and Puebla states and in Mexico State.
It struck while many people took part in an earthquake drill exactly 32 years after a quake killed thousands.
The country is prone to earthquakes and earlier this month an 8.1 magnitude tremor in the south left at least 90 dead.
The epicentre of the latest quake was next to Atencingo in Puebla state, about 120km (75 miles) from Mexico City, with a depth of 51km, the US Geological Survey said.
At least 64 people were killed in Morelos state alone, south of the capital, and 29 reported killed in Puebla state. Thirty-six are confirmed dead in Mexico City with another nine in Mexico State.
Close-up map of affected regions
About two million people in the capital were without electricity and phone lines were down. Officials also warned residents not to smoke on the streets as gas mains could have been ruptured.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told TV network Televisa that rescue services were dealing with collapsed or badly damaged buildings at 44 locations.
The earthquake drill was being held in Mexico City on the 32nd anniversary of a quake that killed up to 10,000 people.
Earthquake alarms did sound, correspondents say, but some residents apparently thought they were part of the day of drills.
Mexico City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with more than 20 million people living in the metropolitan area.The prolonged tremor hit at 13:14 local time (18:14 GMT) and sent thousands of residents into the streets.
Jennifer Swaddle, a teacher at the British International School in Mexico City, told the BBC that part of her classroom collapsed after the earthquake hit.
"Something that started as a tremor quickly escalated into something where the classroom shook," she said.
"As we were leaving, the outside of my classroom wall fell, so there was a big pile of rubble. Luckily, fantastically, nobody was hurt, but it was incredibly frightening."
A six-storey blocks of flats, a supermarket and a factory were said to be among the collapsed buildings in Mexico City.
Mexican media also reported that some children had been rescued from the partially collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school, in Mexico City's southern Coapa district, but that others were still trapped.
Across the city, teams of rescue workers and volunteers clawed through the rubble with picks, shovels and their bare hands.
"My wife is there. I haven't been able to communicate with her," said Juan Jesus Garcia, 33, choking back tears next to a collapsed building.
"She is not answering and now they are telling us we have to turn off our mobile phones because there is a gas leak."
President Enrique Peña Nieto urged people to avoid the streets so emergency services could reach the most affected areas.Panic on the streets
By Juan Paullier, BBC News, Mexico City
Mexico City is a city all too used to earthquakes. But this tremor, on the anniversary of another one that left thousands dead in 1985, was especially powerful.
It sent thousands of people into the streets, trembling, shaking, crying, and trying to reach their loved ones by phone.
As time passes it is becoming clear that there are going to be many victims. In the capital alone, about 30 buildings collapsed.
In one of the worst-affected areas I saw dozens of people desperately removing rubble because they believed someone was trapped.
Alfredo del Mazo Maza, governor of the State of Mexico, said schools would be closed on Wednesday. He also ordered all public transport to operate services for free so that people could travel home.
Foreign leaders sent messages of support to Mexico as the scale of the disaster became clear.
US President Donald Trump, who has courted controversy with his plans for a border wall with Mexico, tweeted: "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tweeted his support following the "devastating news".

Hurricane Maria batters Dominica as category five storm

Hurricane Maria, strengthened to a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm, has torn into the Caribbean island of Dominica with sustained winds of 260km/h (160mph).

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook that his roof had been torn off and he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane".

He said his house had flooded, later adding that he had been rescued.

Dominica's airport and ports have been closed.

Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

The nearby island of Martinique has declared a maximum-level alert while another French island, Guadeloupe, ordered evacuations.

Hurricane warnings are also in place for:

Puerto Rico: The US territory expects Maria to make landfall as a category three on Tuesday. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected. Governor Ricardo Rossello urged islanders to seek refugeUS Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands: Both island chains suffered severe damage from Irma and President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the US territories on Monday. British authorities fear debris left behind by Irma could be whipped up by the new storm and pose an extra threat.

Warnings are also in effect for St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and St Lucia while hurricane watches are in place for St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

The islands bearing the brunt of Maria are part of the Leeward Islands chain and include Antigua and Barbuda. The latter was evacuated after being devastated by Irma.

Forecasters warned that heavy rainfall caused by the hurricane "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides".

All ports and airports are closed and residents near the coast have been ordered to go to authorised shelters.

Curtis Matthew, a journalist based in the capital, Roseau, told the BBC that conditions went "very bad, rapidly".

"We are not able to even see properly what is happening on the road. The winds are very, very strong, we can hear the noise on the outside. We still don't know what the impact is going to be when this is all over. But what I can say it does not look good for Dominica as we speak," he said.

Martinique raised its alert status to "violet", the highest level, and ordered its population to seek shelter.

In Guadeloupe, schools, businesses and government buildings have all been closed and severe flooding is predicted. The French government has ordered low-lying areas on the islands to be evacuated, AFP reports.

Image captionThe Leeward Islands - where Maria will first strike - includes Antigua and BarbudaThe British government said more than 1,300 troops were staying put in the region and an additional military team had been deployed to the British Virgin Islands where entire neighbourhoods were flattened by Irma.

Virgin boss Richard Branson, who has a home in the Virgin Islands, has been tweeting ahead of the Maria's predicted arrival, warning people to stay safe.

Media captionA BBC team visited Caribbean islands that have been devastated by Hurricane IrmaIrma also hit the US, where several dozen deaths were linked to the hurricane. Nearly 6.9 million homes were left without power in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.

Barbuda after Hurricane IrmaIn Pictures: Irma devastates British Virgin Islands

A second hurricane, Jose, is also active in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds of 90mph.

The centre of Jose was about 265 miles east-south-east of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, the NHC said in its advisory at 18:00 GMT on Monday.

Irma turns Caribbean island paradises into nightmares

This Sept. 7, 2017 photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten. Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees. Significant damage was reported on the island that is split between French and Dutch control. Gerben Van Es/Dutch Defense Ministry via AP
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua — Strung like beads along the northeast edge of the Caribbean, the Leeward Islands are tiny, remote and beautiful, with azure waters and ocean breezes drawing tourists from around the world.

The wild isolation that made St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands vacation paradises has turned them into cutoff, chaotic nightmares in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which left 22 people dead, mostly in the Leeward Islands. Looting and lawlessness were reported Saturday by both French and Dutch authorities, who were sending in extra troops to restore order.

The Category 5 storm snapped the islands' fragile links to the outside world with a direct hit early Wednesday, pounding their small airports, decapitating cellphone towers, filling harbors with overturned, crushed boats and leaving thousands of tourists and locals desperate to escape.

The situation worsened Saturday with the passage of Category 4 Hurricane Jose, which shuttered airports and halted emergency boat traffic through the weekend.

Looting, gunshots and a lack of clean drinking water were reported on the French Caribbean territory of St. Martin, home to five-star resorts and a multimillion estate owned by President Donald Trump.

Federal officials deployed C-130s to evacuate U.S. citizens from the French Caribbean island of St. Martin to Puerto Rico. Nearly 160 were evacuated on Friday and approximately 700 more on Saturday.

The amphibious assault USS Wasp evacuated hospital patients from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to St. Croix and Puerto Rico. The Norwegian Cruise Line turned a cruise ship into an ad-hoc rescue boat, sending a ship with 10 restaurants, a spa and a casino to evacuate 2,000 tourists from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Norwegian Sky cruise ship was due to arrive Tuesday and take its charges to Miami.

More than 1,100 police, military officials and others were deployed to St. Martin and the nearby French Caribbean territory of St. Barts, where they used helicopters to identify the cars of people looting stores and homes. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Saturday night that France would be sending more Foreign Legion troops, paratroopers and other reinforcements to St. Martin starting Sunday.

Philippe said the several hundred gendarmes, soldiers and other security forces there were working in "difficult conditions" and needed help.

The government told all residents to stay inside and put the island and St. Barts on its highest alert level as Hurricane Jose rolled through the area.

The island is divided between French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten, where the Dutch government estimated Saturday that 70 percent of houses were badly damaged or destroyed, leaving much of the 40,000 population in public shelters as they braced for the arrival of Jose.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the situation remained "grim" on the island where widespread looting had broken out and a state of emergency was in force.

Rutte said some 230 Dutch troops and police were patrolling St. Maarten to maintain order and deliver aid and a further 200 would arrive in coming days. The government evacuated 65 dialysis patients from St. Maarten's hospital, which also was hard hit by Irma.

The islands' woes increased as the airport on St. Barts was closed, and those in Anguilla and St. Martin were open only to the military, rescue crews and aid organizations. Others, including St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, banned flyovers.

Late Saturday, St. Maarten Prime Minister William Marlin said about 1,600 tourists had been evacuated and efforts are being made to move 1,200 more.

Marlin said many countries and people have offered help to St. Maarten, but authorities are waiting on the weather conditions to see how this can be coordinated.

Before the hurricanes, St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport was one of the former Dutch colony's major tourist draws thanks to a runway that ended just a few meters (yards) from the sandy crescent of Maho Beach, where people could stand and watch as arriving jets skimmed low over their heads.

After Irma, aerial footage shot by Dutch marines showed that Maho Beach's sands had washed away and the airport was badly damaged. The Dutch military are using the runway, which was inundated by high tides during the hurricane, to ferry in aid supplies but say it's not yet open to civilian flights as there are no runway lights or air traffic control. The Canadian low-cost airline and tour agency Sunwing evacuated some Canadian tourists from St Maarten to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

Ports in St. John, St. Thomas and elsewhere remained closed.

As Jose neared, the last airplane flew in to St. Martin's battered Grande-Case airport Friday carrying workers to help re-establish the island's water supply and electricity. French authorities said some 1,105 recovery workers were deployed on St. Martin and St. Barts. A tanker with 350 tons of fresh water was also on its way.

By Saturday, damage was estimated to have already reached 1.2 billion euros ($1.44 billion).

France said it hoped to allow commercial boats to go to and from St. Martin and nearby Guadeloupe on Monday, when waters are expected to calm.

French President Emmanuel Macron came under criticism for his government's handling of the crisis.

Once known for pink sandy beaches that attracted celebrities and royalty, the island of Barbuda is now a disaster zone. Virtually all of its 1,500 residents left for the sister island of Antigua, a 1.5-hour boat ride away, ahead of Jose with assistance from

"The biggest problem in Barbuda now is the fact that you have so many dead animals in the water and so on, that there is a threat of disease. You could put all the people back in Barbuda today ... but then you'll have a medical crisis on your hand," Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Fernandez said.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced a package of 42 million pounds (about $55 million) for the relief effort in the British overseas territories of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos

"The UK government is doing everything it possibly can to help those affected by the hurricane," he said.

But Anguilla's former attorney general, Rupert Jones, criticized Britain's response to the disaster.

"It is an insufficient drop in the Caribbean ocean for islands subject to devastation and inhabited by its own citizens," he wrote in an email. "The rebuilding effort is bound to cost a vast amount more and it is hard to see this making a real difference to the three islands."

___

Weissenstein reported from Havana, Cuba. Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thomas Adamson and Angela Charlton in Paris and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

Spanish police stop second attack after 13 killed in Barcelona

Spanish police say they have killed five suspected terrorists in the town of Cambrils to stop a vehicle attack, after an earlier one in Barcelona.

The men, wearing explosive belts, were linked to the first attack, police say.

Thirteen people died and dozens were hurt when a van hit crowds in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona on Thursday. The driver fled and is still at large.

Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy described it a "jihadist attack", which so-called Islamic State said it had carried out.

Mr Rajoy has announced three days of national mourning and a minute's silence will be held later on Friday.

The authorities are now also linking the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils with an explosion at a house on Wednesday evening in the town of Alcanar that left one person dead.

Police chief Josep Lluis Trapero said it appeared the residents at the Alcanar house had been "preparing an explosive device".

In Cambrils, seven people, including a police officer, were wounded when a car was driven into them early on Friday, Catalan emergency services said. One person is in a critical condition.

Spanish media reported that the attackers' vehicle overturned and when the men got out they were quickly fired upon by police.

A series of controlled explosions was then carried out.

Police in Cambrils inspect the car used in an attempted attack, 18 August 2017Image copyrightEPA
Image captionPolice inspect the vehicle used in the Cambrils attack

Police say the situation in Cambrils - a popular seaside resort to the south-west of Barcelona - is now under control.

Meanwhile police are continuing to search for the driver of the van used in the Barcelona attack, who fled on foot. He is believed to be the sole attacker there.

Tourists and locals fled when the rented vehicle sped down Las Ramblas in the centre of the city, mowing down people.

Witnesses said the van deliberately targeted people, weaving from side to side as it drove down the boulevard.

Two people have been arrested, but police say neither was the driver.

Driss OubakirImage copyrightSPANISH NATIONAL POLICE/ HANDOUT
Image captionPolice released this photo of Driss Oubakir, whose documents were used to rent the van

Police have released a photo of a man named as Driss Oubakir, whose documents were used to rent the van involved in the attack.

Local media say he is in his 20s, and was born in Morocco. However, latest reports suggest he has told police he was not involved, and that his documents were stolen.

So-called Islamic State has said it was behind the Las Ramblas attack, saying in a brief statement carried by its Amaq news agency that it was carried out by "Islamic State soldiers". The group gave no further evidence or details to back this claim.

Vehicles have been used to ram into crowds in a series of attacks across Europe since July last year.

In another incident, police shot dead a man who drove into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona, but the authorities said there was no evidence that he was connected to the attack in Las Ramblas.


Barcelona map

Analysis: A worrying trend

Gordon Corera, BBC News security correspondent

Barcelona is just the latest European city to witness the terrible effects of a vehicle attack on an iconic or "soft" target. 

In Nice a year ago, Bastille Day celebrations were targeted, then a Christmas market in Berlin. In London, Westminster and London Bridge, as well as Finsbury Park, saw cars and vans used as weapons. 

In the UK, new barriers have been put in place to mitigate some of the risks at key locations and there is discussion of imposing checks on those renting vans, but security services in Britain - as well as across Europe - are all too aware that there are limits to what they can do to spot and stop those planning murder in this way. 

The weapons employed are readily available and there is little or no training, co-ordination or planning required. This means there are few points where individuals can be spotted by the intelligence services.

Although so-called Islamic State has released a statement saying what it calls its "soldiers" had carried out the Barcelona attack, it is not yet clear whether there was any direct link to the group or if they were simply inspired by its call to act. The language used often indicates the latter.

Either way, authorities will be bracing themselves for the possibility of further attacks of a similar nature.


What did people see in Barcelona?

A businessman from New Orleans, who was just arriving in a taxi in Las Ramblas, said: "I heard a crowd screaming. It sounded like they were screaming for a movie star.

"I saw the van. It had already been busted on the front. It was weaving left and right, trying to hit people as fast as possible. There were people lying on the ground."

 
Media captionFootage shows police surrounding a white van moments after the attack

Aamer Anwar said he was walking down Las Ramblas, which was "jam-packed" with tourists.

"All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming. I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids," he told Sky News.

"Police were very, very quickly there, police officers with guns, batons, everywhere. Then the whole street started getting pushed back.

"Police officers who got there just started screaming at people to move back, move back."

 
Media captionFootage captures people using a shop as an escape route on Las Ramblas

Kevin Kwast, who is on holiday in Barcelona with his family, said: "I was eating with my family in La Boqueria market very near where the crash occurred. 

"Hundreds of people started stampeding through the market... we started running with them going outside right into where casualties were already on the ground. 

"Police pushed us into a money transfer shop and we've been sheltering there for over an hour."


Las Ramblas (file photo 2015)Image copyrightREUTERS

Las Ramblas

  • Central boulevard that runs 1.2km (0.75 miles) through the centre of Barcelona
  • Runs from the city's Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) to the Christopher Columbus monument at the seafront. 
  • Popular with tourists because of its market stalls, bars and restaurants
  • Barcelona city council restricted traffic flow because of heavy pedestrian use of the street

Europe's deadly vehicle attacks

  • Paris, 9 August 2017: A man rammed a BMW into a group of soldiers, injuring six.
  • London, 19 June 2017: A man is killed in a van attack on Muslims outside a mosque in Finsbury Park.
  • London, 3 June 2017: Eight people died when three jihadists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then stabbed passers-by. 
  • Stockholm, Sweden, 7 April 2017: Uzbek Rakhmat Akilov killed four people when he drove a lorry into a department store.
  • London, 22 March 2017: Four people died when a car rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and the driver then stabbed to death a policeman.
  • Berlin, Germany, 19 December 2016: Tunisian Anis Amri ploughed a truck into a Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 people.
  • Nice, France, 14 July 2016: Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people on Bastille Day.
  • France, December 2014: A van was driven into a Christmas market in Nantes and a car rammed pedestrians in Dijon, leaving more than 20 wounded.
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