Hamilton backs Button to replace Alonso in Monaco

McLaren have yet to say who will be the stand-in, but 2009 world champion Button — the last driver to win a race for the team back in 2012 — is already looking like the clear frontrunner.

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“Why do I have so many missed calls?,” Button, 37, joked on Twitter as speculation mounted about a comeback after McLaren’s surprise announcement that Alonso will skip the season’s showcase event and race in America on the same day.

Triple world champion Hamilton, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013 and is currently leading the championship with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, said his former team mate and fellow Monaco resident was the obvious choice.

“I hope Jenson comes back, I think it would be great for the sport to have Jenson back in,” he told reporters.

“I like Jenson and he is still one of the best drivers and his calibre and experience is way ahead of the other drivers able to take that spot for sure.”

Button handed over his McLaren seat to Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne at the end of last season but the Honda-powered team retained an option on his services for 2018 and as a potential stand-in this season.

The Briton made clear last November that he was not expecting to return — and it is not clear whether he would be willing to do so now — but he has kept fit competing in triathlons and training in California.

Button won the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix from pole position, one of his 15 career victories, and was also on the podium in 2004 and 2011. He has 305 races under his belt.

McLaren’s executive director Zak Brown said on Wednesday there was no replacement in place for Alonso but a decision would be taken soon.

“We have a few different options, we will state who that is when we know,” the American said.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ian Chadband)

Holmes on Cleary bomb watch at Penrith

Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes has spent a week watching Nathan Cleary’s high-floating bombs.

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Now he just has to catch them come Easter Sunday at Pepper Stadium.

Cleary wreaked havoc last week for Penrith against South Sydney, almost guiding the Panthers to a come-from-behind win off his own boot.

He had former under-20s teammate Braidon Burns in a real panic, and regularly forced errors at the wrong end for the Rabbitohs.

“That’s the first thing we looked at is his floaters,” Holmes said.

“He’s the one that does most the kicking. I will just be watching him most the game and see where he goes.”

Holmes is now just three games into his full-time shift to fullback, and he admits he is still learning on the run.

He was thrust into the role earlier than expected following Ben Barba’s summer departure, but a bad hamstring ruled him out of two trials and the opening rounds.

He has since worked hard with Sharks assistant and former St George Illawarra coach Steve Price, and is starting to get a feel for the position in the NRL.

“It’s a lot harder than when I was playing in the juniors,” Holmes said.

“It’s a bit more physical and a lot more demanding with the forwards when you’re on the defensive lines.”

It hasn’t shown in his performances though.

Despite his try-scoring rate from last year on the wing going down, Holmes is getting through more work than Barba did last season and is just as potent in attack.

“I feel like I’m getting better,” he said.

“I probably wouldn’t say I’m at my peak yet. It’s a long season, it’s only round seven this week.

“I want to try and get to it soon though.

“I still haven’t really done much out the back in good ball areas. I want to try and open up in those areas and be really dominant there.”

Weekend sport preview

Tonight’s A-League game sees the Melbourne Victory up against the Central Coast Mariners.

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Victory is already assured a home semi-final, but hasn’t won a match in its last three starts.

Victory coach Kevin Muscat wants to hit form, especially after the home defeat to Wellington Phoenix in round 25.

“We want to perform well. Obviously after that there’s a weekend off so this is the last opportunity before it gets to sudden death. We certainly owe our members and fans at least a performance because the last one was nowhere near good enough here.”

And that game will be on SBS Viceland tonight from 7.30 in the East.

On Saturday afternoon Sydney FC meets the Newcastle Jets having already wrapped up the Premiers Plate.

The team will receive the trophy after the match.

Sydney won’t have to play in the first round of finals action as the teams ranked 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th battle it out for the right to meet the top two.

The format of the finals series is something Sydney FC Coach Graham Arnold has had to explain to some of his foreign players such as Brazilian import Bobo and Dutch defender Jordi Buijs.

“Bobo didn’t understand the Australian way, and Jordi. They thought everything was around obviously first past the post is the champion. But we’ve had to explain we need to keep going. Finals weeks are big here in Australia, so it’s getting them to understand that as well.”

The AFL this weekend takes place in the aftermath of the Eddie Betts racism storm.

The sport has tried to deal with several instances of fan abuse aimed at Indigenous players in recent years but last weekend Adelaide’s Betts was targeted in an online attack by a women who labelled him an ‘ape’.

She’s since been charged by police but, despite that, Betts told Adelaide Radio station 5AA the issue isn’t simply wrecking his enjoyment of the sport.

“It affects me but it affects people around me more, you know: my wife, our kids are Indigenous and they’ll have to grow up with this stuff as well. Enough is enough, you know, they’ve got fighting on the hill, it’s not kid-friendly, there’s kids on the hill watching that and there’s people yelling racist abuse; it’s just not a good place to be.”

Adelaide takes on Essendon on Saturday evening.

North Melbourne takes on the reigning Premier Western Bulldogs.

In the National Rugby League tonight, the Newcastle Knights and Roosters play in the early evening fixture, while there’s a Queesland derby when the Brisbane Broncos take on the Gold Coast Titans.

This week the NRL confirmed it will aim to stamp out slapping in the game.

Referees have been instructed to issue players with 10 minutes in the sin-bin if they are guilty of slapping an opponent.

Titans coach Neil Henry is in full agreement with the move.

“I think it’s about time that they did something because it was getting a bit ridiculous about what you could hold a shirt and slap someone or sort of nearly punch them. I mean it’s not a good look, so we’ll see how they police it.”

The Easter Monday match sees the Parramatta Eels take on the Tigers at 4pm.

This weekend’s Super Rugby action has been overshadowed somewhat by the decision to cull an Australian team and two South African franchises from next season, as part of a cost-cutting measure.

The Melbourne Rebels are one of the two Australian teams facing the axe, and they play the ACT Brumbies on Saturday night.

The other side in the firing line is the Western Force, which has a bye this weekend.

In Formula One this weekend British driver Lewis Hamilton will look to make it two wins from two Grand Prix in the early hours on Monday morning.

The Mercedes driver is locked at the top of the drivers’ standings with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on 43 points each.

The Netball season has reached the halfway point and so far the return to an all-Australian competition has been seen as a success.

Of the 28 matches played almost half have been decided by five goals or less.

The teams are enjoying a mid-season bye-round over the Easter weekend.

The Greater Western Sydney Giants are on top of the ladder after the first 8 rounds.

The league returns on April 22.

 

Man dragged off United flight plans to sue: lawyers

The man dragged off a United Airlines flight, sparking an international uproar, suffered a broken nose and concussion, his lawyer said Thursday, adding that he is planning to sue.

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David Dao was released from the hospital overnight and was at a “secure location,” attorney Thomas Demetrio said at a news conference during which a member of Dao’s family spoke out for the first time.   

United remained under a spotlight Thursday as representatives of the carrier faced tough questioning at a city council hearing in Chicago, where the airline is headquartered and where the incident occurred. 

Dao’s lawyers filed a petition in court requesting that the city, which operates O’Hare International Airport, and United Airlines preserve evidence related to the incident on Sunday. They also said a lawsuit was forthcoming. 

“This lawsuit, among other things, hopefully, will create a not just national discussion, but international discussion, on how we’re going to be treated going forward,” Demetrio said. 

“For a long time, airlines, United in particular, have bullied us.”

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Online video of airport security officers dragging Dao off a packed flight Sunday sparked worldwide outrage. He screamed as officers pulled him from his seat, and was bloodied by the altercation. 

The 69-year-old doctor’s lawyers said he also suffered injury to his sinuses and lost two front teeth. 

“My dad is healing right now,” said Crystal Dao Pepper, 33, one of Dao’s five children.  

“We were completely horrified and shocked at what had happened to my father,” she said.  

In response, United Airlines released a statement reiterating its apology. 

“We continue to express our sincerest apology to Dr. Dao. We cannot stress enough that we remain steadfast in our commitment to make this right,” the statement said. 

The airline added that it would no longer ask law enforcement to remove a passenger from a flight unless it is a matter of safety and security.  

The statement did not quell criticism of United, especially since its apologies came days after the incident — and after initial statements appeared to at least in part blame Dao.

At a sometimes tense hearing Thursday at Chicago’s city hall, officials from United Airlines and O’Hare airport said they are conducting investigations to determine what went wrong with their procedures. 

United said it will release the results of its review on April 30.  

“We commit to you that this type of situation will never happen again aboard our aircraft,” Margaret Smith, United’s head of corporate affairs, said at the hearing.

Asked why United took days to apologize, Smith said the airline made a mistake. 

“We took too long to say anything, and our statement – when it first came out – did not show the depth of our concern and regret,” Smith said. 

“We should have handled it quicker, and we should have been better at expressing how that is something that we just do not want ever to happen again at United.”

Lawmakers in Congress have also signaled potential action. 

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois said she would author a bill to end the practice of airlines denying boarding to passengers on overbooked flights. A group of 21 senators also said they planned to examine the incident.

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Allies will help combat North Korea: Trump

Australia could be drawn into hostilities with North Korea, with US President Donald Trump announcing via Twitter if China is unable to deal with the rogue nation “the US, with its allies, will”.

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Mr Trump has publicly ramped up pressure on China to use its influence to curtail North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile program.

North Korea has responded by threatening nuclear strikes on the US.

Mr Trump’s latest tweets also come as the USS Carl Vinson Nimitz-class aircraft carrier-led strike group of warships heads to the Korean Peninsula and two days before US Vice President Mike Pence sets off on a tour of Australia, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia where North Korea will be on the agenda.

“I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea,” Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday.

“If they are unable to do so, the US, with its allies, will!”

Mr Trump’s inclusion of “allies” differs from a tweet he sent out on Tuesday.

“North Korea is looking for trouble,” Mr Trump wrote.

“If China decides to help, that would be great.

“If not, we will solve the problem without them!”

Last week’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida has soothed previously strained Chinese and American relations.

China on Wednesday surprisingly did not join Russia in vetoing a US-backed United Nations Security Council draft resolution denouncing the gas attack on the citizens of the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Since the Syrian civil war began, China has vetoed six resolutions on Syria.

On Thursday Mr Trump told reporters China “has already started” asserting its influence on North Korea by turning back North Korean coal boats.

North Korean coal exports to China are vital for the already struggling regime’s economy.

“The vast amount of coal that comes out of North Korea going to China, they’ve turned back the boats,” Mr Trump told the joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“That’s a big step, and they have many other steps that I know about.

“So we’ll see what happens.

“It may be effective, it may not be effective.

“If it’s not effective, we will be effective, I can promise you that.”

NZ’s cyclone Cook: ‘The worst is over’

Cyclone Cook has battered New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, leaving homes flooded and many without electricity, but has quickly swept down the North Island without matching the feared destruction of the Wahine storm of 1968.

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“The worst is over. At the moment it’s lying just southeast of Cook Strait,” MetService meteorologist John Crouch about 5am on Friday.

It should pass the east of the South Island during Friday morning, bringing rain and wind to the eastern seaboard, he said.

Cook brought heavy bands of rain and strong winds.

The strongest wind gust was 209km/h recorded at White Island around 4pm on Thursday and Cape Kidnappers’ winds hit 154km/h at 9pm. However, winds around the Bay of Plenty were generally much lower.

Earlier on Thursday, forecasters were warning Cook could be in the same league as ex-Tropical Cyclone Giselle in 1968, which hit the whole country and resulted in the fatal Wahine ferry disaster which killed 53 people.

However, authorities weren’t forced to close the Auckland Harbour Bridge and there hasn’t been comparable destruction.

“It probably wasn’t as significant as we were initially thinking,” Mr Crouch told NZ Newswire.

Cook was small and compact, wasn’t as deep as previous lows and moved quickly over the North Island, Mr Crouch said. It also tracked further east than thought so Auckland wasn’t badly hit.

Firefighters responded to 50 weather-related calls in the Hawke’s Bay until about 9.30pm but there was nothing after 10pm, the Fire Service’s Murray Dunbar says.

Nevertheless, the Waikato and Bay of Plenty face a clean-up.

On Thursday, emergency services received dozens of calls about homes flooding, along with powerlines and trees brought down.

Two people were hospitalised in the Hawke’s Bay after a tree brought down by the cyclone struck their car.

The weather also disrupted regional flights across the country.

Waves up to 5m were expected to hit coastal areas and prompted Civil Defence calls for people to evacuate low-lying and vulnerable coastal areas earlier in the day.

McGovern shines for Eagles against Swans

Jack Darling might face a tough task to reclaim his place in West Coast forward line after Jeremy McGovern’s superb showing in Thursday night’s win over Sydney.

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Darling missed the 26-point win over Sydney at Domain Stadium with an ankle complaint forcing Eagles coach Adam Simpson into a reshuffle.

That saw All-Australian defender McGovern pushed into attack in place of Darling and he impressed in tandem with Josh Kennedy.

McGovern finished with 19 possessions and eight marks, looking more than capable of delivering plenty as a permanent forward with the Eagles back-line coping admirably in his absence.

Will Schofield came into the line-up and along with Tom Barrass helped limit the impact of Lance Franklin and Sam Reid for the Swans.

With Eric Mackenzie a back up for West Coast’s defence, it is not out of the question for McGovern to remain forward.

That leaves Simpson with a decision to make about Darling, who has struggled to shine in 2017 even before his injury.

The other option would be leaving out one of the big men in Jonathan Giles and Nathan Vardy who have been splitting ruck and forward duties.

The latter might seem the likeliest choice but by missing the win over Sydney, Darling has shown he is replaceable.

Simpson was happy with what McGovern delivered and expects to have to make a big call one way or the other ahead of next Sunday’s clash with Hawthorn at the MCG.

“We might explore doing more of it. It’s something we have been toying with for a long time, but he (McGovern) has just been so bloody good down back,” Simpson said.

“To be forced to make a few changes and have a bit of flexibility in our side sometimes opens things up. Maybe we’ll reflect on that. You want flexibility in your side and you want unpredictability as well.

“We train our players up for other roles, but they are pretty good at playing the role they are in as well.

“Sometimes throwing to that during a game is difficult to get a result from and it’s a bit of a Hail Mary.

“But when you plan it during the week they will play anywhere you ask them.”

Whirlwind Asia-Pacfic visit for US VP

WHEN:

US Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to fly out of Washington DC on Air Force Two on Saturday (April 15) with his wife, Karen, and two daughters, Charlotte and Audrey.

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WHERE:

April 16 Seoul, South Korea; April 18 Tokyo, Japan; April 20 Jakarta, Indonesia; April 22, Sydney, Australia; April 24 Honolulu, Hawaii.

WHY?

Mr Pence could title this the “Pacifying the Asia-Pacific Tour”.

On the campaign trail and in the early days of his presidency, US President Donald Trump lived up to his nickname of Disruptor-in-Chief with protectionist talk and calling out South Korea and Japan for not paying their way militarily and their trade policies.

Just days after his inauguration Mr Trump abruptly ended a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the asylum-seeker deal.

In Indonesia, Mr Trump’s executive orders banning citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations was not welcomed.

Adding to the bad will, one of Mr Trump’s first moves was to rip up the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US, Australia, Japan and nine other Pacific Rim nations.

The official word from the White House is during the tour Mr Pence “will emphasise President Trump’s continued commitment to US alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, highlight the administration’s economic agenda, and underscore America’s unwavering support for our troops at home and abroad”.

AUSTRALIA

The Trump Administration’s early Asia-Pacific focus has been on the Koreas, Japan and China, rather than Australia and south-east Asia so there is hope Mr Pence’s visit will give some clues to the White House’s strategic vision for Australia and the region.

The US and Australian governments will be keen to put Mr Trump’s fiery phone call with Mr Turnbull behind them.

The asylum-seeker deal that raised Mr Trump’s blood pressure to boiling point during the call is still in the works and Mr Pence is expected to say the right things about it while in Australia.

The US and Australia are keen to build on their military alliance now that disagreements over cost-sharing for Northern Territory military bases and the US Marines rotational force have been solved.

Mr Pence will meet with Mr Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and US and Australian military members during the visit and will focus “on American businesses, jobs, and the economy”.

SEOUL

Pence is flying directly into the high-stakes stand-off between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with the US Navy’s Carl Vinson supercarrier-led strike group of warships sitting off the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has threatened “nuclear fire of justice”.

South Korea’s own political situation is in flux with a presidential election set for May 9 after former president Park Geun-hye was removed from office in December after a bribery scandal.

TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aggressively built a relationship with Mr Trump, dropping in to Trump Tower in Manhattan just days after the election victory and then followed up with a February visit to the White House and then a side golfing trip to Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

During the talks it was decided Mr Pence and Deputy Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso would chair future economic policy talks.

The first US-Japan Economic Dialogue will take place during Mr Pence’s Tokyo visit.

JAKARTA

Mr Pence will meet with President Joko Widodo, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and, noting the 40th Anniversary of US-ASEAN relations, he will hold talks with ASEAN officials.

The Indonesian visit has been circled by some US officials as the “most interesting to watch”.

After Mr Trump’s failed attempt to block some Muslim nations’ citizens from entering the US, Mr Pence is expected to make an attempt to show the White House’s support for religious tolerance.

NSW grandmother remains with baby Aria

The Sydney grandmother of a newborn baby at the centre of a 13-hour police search says she will remain with the infant in hospital pending further decisions by the Department of Family and Community Services.

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Fifteen-year-old mum Jenifer Morrison and her boyfriend Jayden Lavender, 14, left Nepean Hospital with baby Aria without being formally discharged about 12.30am on Thursday.

Jayden’s mother Tracy Lavender said her son knew it was wrong but didn’t want to leave his girlfriend.

“I knew there was nowhere he could turn,” she told AAP.

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Ms Lavender said Jenifer had unfairly been told by a social worker she wasn’t able to take Aria home to the Lavenders’ house because of concerns about the risk of domestic violence and drug use.

But she says those concerns related to a foster son who hasn’t lived with the family for six months, accusing the case worker of having “a vendetta” against the teenage mother.

The trio was found at Willmott, in Sydney’s west, on Thursday afternoon after Jayden bought camping equipment and returned to the area where he grew up.

The baby, who was found to be healthy and safe, was taken back to hospital and the teens were interviewed by police. No charges have been laid.

“While she’s in hospital, I’m going to be there by her side,” Ms Lavender said.

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US denies Syrian strike hit IS gas depot

The Syrian army says an air strike by the US-led coalition hit poison gas supplies belonging to Islamic State, releasing a toxic substance that killed “hundreds”, but the coalition denies carrying out raids in the area.

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A statement by the army, flashed on Thursday by Syrian state TV, said the incident on Wednesday in the eastern Deir al-Zor province proved that Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked militants “possess chemical weapons”.

The report could not immediately be independently verified.

US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said it had carried out no air strikes in that area at that time.

“The Syrian claim is incorrect and likely intentional misinformation,” he said in an email to Reuters.

The United States launched cruise missiles at a Syrian air base last week, in response to a deadly poison gas attack in the west of the country that Washington blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Syria and its ally Russia deny Damascus carried out any such chemical attack. Moscow has said the poison gas in that incident belonged to rebels.

The US strike on the Syrian air base was the first time Washington has deliberately and directly targeted the Syrian government. It is separately waging an air campaign against Islamic State in eastern Syria.

An air strike carried out by US-led anti-Islamic State coalition forces accidentally killed 18 fighters belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Pentagon said separately on Thursday.

The “misdirected strike” was carried out on Tuesday south of Tabqah. The strike had been requested by “partnered forces” in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, who had identified the target location as an Islamic State fighting position.

The SDF is a US-allied coalition of Syrian Kurds and Arabs.

A Pentagon news release did not further identify the forces that requested the air strike, which occurred as part of the coalition’s air support of an offensive to free al-Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.