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‘Conservative’ Australians back same-sex marriage

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Canberra, March 20: A majority of Australians in some of the nation’s most conservative electorates have backed the same same-sex marriage movement, a new poll revealed on Monday.

ReachTel polled Australians living in 12 conservative seats, including Treasurer Scott Morrison’s seat of Cook, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s electorate of Moncrieff, finding that a majority of voters in all 12 of the electorates polled supported same-sex marriage, Xinhua news agency reported.

A majority of voters also said that it was “very important” that the issue should be resolved in Parliament in 2017.

Deputy Prime Minister Joyce is against legalising same-sex marriage in Australia, but 50.5 per cent of voters in his seat are for allowing same-sex couples to marry, while 39 per cent opposed.

More than 56 per cent of people in Treasurer Morrison’s seat would like to see same-sex couples be given the same rights as other Australians, while 61.2 per cent of those in the safe Liberal seat of Moncrieff in Queensland said they support same-sex marriage.

The poll was commissioned by Australians for Equality and asked the opinion of 700 people in each electorate.

The movement’s director, Tiernan Brady said the results reflected “what we are seeing in town hall meetings all around Australia”.

“This won’t go away, this doesn’t need to be a political football, a clear majority of voters in every party want this,” Brady told the media on Monday.

There is currently a push within government to allow a free vote on the issue before the federal budget is handed down in May, however, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said a plebiscite, or non-binding public vote, would still take place later this year.

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US may stop spouses of H-1B visa holders from working

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Washington, Dec 16: US President Donald Trump’s administration is set to propose revoking a rule that makes spouses of thousands of H1-B visa holders eligible to work while in the US, potentially complicating a major driver of technology jobs, the media reported.

Since 2015, the spouses of H-1B, or high-skilled, visa holders waiting for green cards have been eligible to work in the US on H-4 dependent visas, under a rule introduced by former President Barack Obama’s administration, CNN reported on Friday.

The tech sector is a major employer of H-1B visa holders.

But in a statement late Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said that it intended to do away with the rule.

However, the department did not explain its reasons in the announcement, saying that it was only acting “in light of” the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that Trump had signed in April.

The formal process to rescind the rule will still need to be initiated at a later date.

While changing the rule would not prevent spouses of H-1B holders from pursuing other avenues for work authorisation, it could deter a number of high-skilled immigrants from staying in the US if their spouses cannot easily find work.

As well as dropping the rule allowing spouses to work, the Department of Homeland Security statement mentioned plans for other changes to the H-1B visa programme, reports CNN.

They include revising the definition of what occupations are eligible for the programme “to increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals”, which would be a standard potentially far above what is currently understood under the law.

The Obama-era rule allowing spouses to work already faces a legal challenge. A group called Save Jobs USA filed a lawsuit in April 2015 arguing that it threatens American jobs.

It has continued to press the case following Trump’s election, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said in the past that the H-4 rule “hurts American workers”.

The administration’s plans to overhaul the H-1B programme has caused particular alarm in India, which accounts for 70 per cent of all H-1B workers.

The H-1B is a common visa route for highly skilled foreigners to find work at companies in the US. It is valid for three years, and can be renewed for another three years.

It is a programme that’s particularly popular in the tech community, with many engineers vying for one of the programme’s 85,000 visas each year.

In October, the government said it was toughening up the process for renewing the visa. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services instructed its officers to review requests for renewal as thoroughly as they would initial visa applications.

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Lebanon to hold first parliamentary elections in 9 years

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Beirut, Dec 16: Lebanon is to hold its first parliamentary elections in nine years on May 6 next year, the media reported.

Citing Lebanese news agency NNA, Efe news reported on Friday that Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk signed the decree, which still requires approval from the government.

Under the provisional schedule, members of the Lebanese diaspora – who are being allowed to vote for the first time – will cast their ballots during the period April 22-27, according to NNA.

Parliamentary elections have been postponed repeatedly due to political instability.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said late last month that 92,810 candidates would take part in the next elections, but he didn’t mention a date.

The setting of a date for the ballot comes after Prime Minister Saad Hariri suspended the resignation he had announced in Riyadh.

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N.Korea threatens to be ‘most powerful nuclear, military state’

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United Nations, Dec 16: In a challenge to the global order, North Korea has issued a threat that it will become “world’s most powerful nuclear and military state”.

Pyongyang’s assertion of ambitions to global supremacy came on Friday after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the Security Council, “The situation on the Korean Peninsula is the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue in the world today.”

Pyongyang “will march forward and make great advancement victoriously as world’s most powerful nuclear and military state upholding the line on simultaneous development of the Two Fronts,” North Korea’s Permanent Representative Ja Song-nam told the Security Council during a session on the threat from his country’s nuclear and missile programmes.

The mention of “Two Fronts” is a reference to North Korea’s theory of simultaneously developing its military capabilities, as well as its economy, which are both vulnerable to international sanctions.

With the characteristic bombast of his country’s rhetoric, Ja dismissed the Council as “tool” of the US, which he said is “terrified by the incredible might of our republic”.

He described the latest North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test on November 29 as the “Great November Event” leading to “completing the state nuclear force” and “building a rocket power”.

That missile, said to be capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US, landed off Japan’s coast within its economic exclusive zone in its test flight.

While claiming to be marching towards becoming the world’s most powerful military and nuclear state, Ja also asserted that Pyongyang “would not pose any threat to any country and region” as long as its interests were not threatened.

He asserted that his country could “fully guarantee” that there had been no “illegal transfer of nuclear weapons, its technology and weapon-grade nuclear materials”.

He was, however, significantly silent about missile technology proliferation.

Pakistan has received missile technology from North Korea in exchange for nuclear technology in deals going back to the 1990s, which have been confirmed by US officials and documented by the US and international media.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke before Ja reiterated Washington’s warning that “all options are on the table” to contain North Korea’s nuclear threat while offering to keep the lines of communication with Pyongyang open.

“The US will use all measures necessary to defend itself,” Tillerson said. But he added, “We will meanwhile keep our channels of communication open.”

Later speaking to reporters, Tillerson said that Washington would not accept any preconditions for talks with Pyongyang.

Referring to proposals by China and Russia for the US and South Korea to stop joint military activities in return for North Korea ceasing nuclear and missile activities, he said: “We do not accept a ‘freeze-for-freeze’ as a precondition to talks.”

He added, “We do not accept any relaxing of the sanctions regime as a precondition of talks. We do not accept a resumption of humanitarian assistance as a precondition of talks.”

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