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Australia’s growth beats forecasts

building

Consumer spending and home construction only just offset an ongoing slump in Australia’s mining investment, said economist Shane Oliver from AMP Capital.

Australia’s economy grew at a better-than-expected 0.9% in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the previous quarter, boosted by mining together with financial and insurance services.

Forecasts were for quarterly growth of between 0.5% and 0.7%.

Official statistics also showed that household consumption expenditure boosted the quarterly growth numbers.

But economist Shane Oliver told the BBC the numbers were “well below potential”.

On an annual basis the economy expanded 2.3%, beating expectations for 2.1%.

Economic growth in the March quarter of 2014 was 2.9%.

‘Not out of the woods’

“The March quarter GDP [gross domestic product] growth was far better than feared just a few days ago,” said Mr Oliver, who is chief economist with AMP Capital in Sydney.

“However, Australia is still not out of the woods, as annual growth at 2.3% is well below potential, and a full 0.8% percentage points of the 0.9% growth came from higher inventories and trade.”

He said domestic demand remained “very weak with consumer spending and home construction only just offsetting the ongoing slump in mining investment”.

“So the Australian economy has not crashed – as many had feared would happen after the end of the mining boom – but it is continuing to grow at a sub par pace,” he added.

Under pressure

Oz coin

A rising Australian dollar has been a cause for concern for Australia’s big exporters

Australia’s economy has been adjusting to a post mining-boom landscape. It saw its economy grow 0.5% in the October to December 2014 period from the quarter before, when growth was 0.4%.

On Tuesday, the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), did not cut its lending rates further to help boost the economy, despite pressure from businesses to do so.

The decision saw Australian stocks fall 1.72% as investors saw little hope of a further cut in the near future.

However, Evan Lucas from IG Markets in Melbourne said “the collapse of [Australian stocks] on the back of the RBA not having an explicit easing bias… was a bit of an overreaction”.

In May, the RBA cut its benchmark lending rate by 25 basis points to an all-time low of 2%.

Sydney housing

Rising property prices in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, a strong currency and a drop in iron ore prices were among the reasons for the RBA’s rate cut last month

Rising property prices in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, a strong currency and a drop in iron ore prices were among the reasons for the cut.

The May rate cut was the second this year, following a previous 25 basis point cut in February and followed similar action from central banks in China, Canada, Singapore, Korea and India.

A rising Australian dollar had also been cause for concern, particularly for Australia’s big mining and energy exporters.

Mr Oliver said more help would likely to be required “in the form of an even lower Australian dollar – and to ensure this happens the RBA may yet still have to cut interest rates further into record low territory.”

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Australia dual citizenship change

Islamic State militants pass by a convoy in Tel Abyad town, north-east Syria, 2015

Australia plans to revoke citizenship from dual nationals suspected but not convicted of terrorism

It is a club where membership is a “privilege that offers enormous rewards”, but Australia is planning to strip membership from alleged terrorists who hold dual nationality.

New legislation proposed by Australia’s Coalition government, expected to be introduced within weeks, will enable the government to remove Australian citizenship from dual nationals who take up arms or support militant groups at home or overseas.

More than 100 Australians are thought to be fighting with Islamic State and other extremists in Iraq and Syria, and the government in Canberra estimates that up to half are dual citizens.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott insists tough measures are needed to protect the country from those who are trying “to destroy us”.

Mr Abbott has also suggested that some sole Australian nationals involved in terrorism could lose their citizenship.

That controversial proposal would allow the country’s immigration minister to strip citizenship from second-generation migrants if they could be eligible for passports from another country.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (left) and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is concerned about the enemy within Australia

The idea is part of a broader official discussion paper that has raised the ire of some senior cabinet ministers reportedly worried about how sole citizens will be affected, even though that could include one of Australia’s most wanted men, Khaled Sharrouf.

Sharrouf, a petty Sydney criminal with Lebanese heritage, dragged his family into the war in Syria in 2013.

Ten years ago, Sharrouf was jailed for his part in one of the biggest terrorism conspiracies Australia has ever seen, but a spell in prison did nothing to quell his radicalism.

Last year, he posted a photograph on social media of his seven-year-old son holding up a severed head in Syria.

There are now reports his Muslim-convert wife, Tara Nettleton, wants to flee Syria and bring her five children back to Australia.

Jihadist poster boy

So how might Mr Abbott’s passport purge apply to this family?

“Khaled Sharrouf is the poster boy for the bad jihadi,” explains Prof Greg Barton, an expert in international relations and politics at Monash University.

“When you think of people you would want to deny citizenship and not come back to Australia then he fits the bill perfectly,” says Prof Barton.

“There are, no doubt, some people we would be glad not to see come back and it might be useful in some of those cases to not have to deal with them in the Australian court system and our prisons, but it is not a silver bullet,” he says.

Tara Nettleton could face serious charges of supporting terrorism if she returns home, but Prof Barton told the BBC that although she might lose her liberty, it was unlikely she would become a persona non grata in her own country.

“If she were to come back she would certainly face prosecution and time in jail,” he says.

New Australians at a citizenship ceremony in Sydney

Australia is rethinking what it means to be an Australian citizen

“I don’t think in her case there would be any easy or justifiable way of revoking her Australian citizenship.”

It is understood that Ms Nettleton has sole Australia citizenship, so revoking those rights would render her stateless, which is prohibited by international law because it would leave her with nowhere to go.

Then there is the vexed question of her children.

Dr Clark Jones, a visiting fellow at Canberra’s Australian National University specialising in radicalisation and terrorism, believes the children should not be punished for the sins of their parents.

Children’s safety

“My primary concern is for the kids,” Dr Jones told the BBC.

“They need to be taken out of this conflict zone and I’m particularly concerned for their safety,” he says.

“Those kids have gone through all sorts of hardship and quite likely could be facing mental health issues.

“We need to get them back into Australia as quickly as possible and if we withdraw citizenship then the chances of them being able to return becomes more and more unlikely.”

UK Home Secretary Theresa May

UK Home Secretary Theresa May says “British values” could help counter home-grown terrorism

Under current legislation, dual nationals can lose their Australian citizenship if they fight for another country that is at war with Australia.

The forfeit is automatic, and there is no provision for ministerial intervention, as there would be under the proposed changes, which would mirror elements adopted in the UK.

Research fellow at the University of New South Wales, Sangeetha Pillai, says it seems more in line with the broad discretion that the UK Home Secretary has “than the more curtailed executive discretion in other countries such as Canada or France where an actual finding of criminal guilt is necessary before citizenship stripping becomes a possibility”.

Minister’s discretion

“While the trigger for losing citizenship will be the commission of an offence, that won’t need to be proved in a court to a criminal standard,” she says.

“It will be to the immigration minister’s satisfaction, and that is quite concerning to me,” she says.

There is unease, too, in Australia’s Muslim community.

Kuranda Seyit, the secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, says the targets of the new laws would invariably be Muslims.

“It will cause more division in our community,” Mr Seyit says.

“The Muslim community is under pressure. It already feels isolated and it is going to be further isolated by these Draconian measures.”

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Australian animal cruelty revealed

Dogs racing at a track in Australia

Cruelty to animals in Australian greyhound racing is widespread

Animal cruelty is widespread in the Queensland greyhound racing industry, says an Australian government report.

Its author, Alan MacSporran, QC, said the industry had failed systematically to assess and manage how animals were treated by trainers and racers.

The report follows the release of footage earlier this year of trainers using live animals to bait racing dogs.

Mr MacSporran said the fact trainers had not hidden the “barbaric” treatment of animals “tells its own story”.

In April, 55 greyhound carcasses were found dumped in a wildflower reserve on the coast of Queensland .

Police and animal authorities investigated the find as part of a joint taskforce established by the state government following an expose by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in February into the practice of “live baiting” within the greyhound racing industry across the nation.

‘Deeply disturbing’

The ABC had aired disturbing footage of greyhounds chasing live pigs, possums and rabbits around tracks.

The “bait” animals were tied to mechanical lures before being chased and mauled to death by dogs, in what Mr MacSporran’s report said was an “archaic and barbaric practice”.

Four Australian states – NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania – launched inquiries into greyhound racing.

Trainers walk their dogs around a race track in Melbourne

Dogs that lose too many races are treated cruelly or killed

Dozens of trainers have already been suspended across the country, some have been banned from ever participating in greyhound racing again and others have been charged under animal cruelty laws.

Announcing the completion of the report, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said those responsible for the cruelty “will be brought to justice”.

She said the discovery of the mass graves was “deeply disturbing” and described live baiting as “absolutely disgusting”.

“There will be swift and decisive action in regards to this report,” she said at a press conference on Monday.

Ears cut

To be tabled in the Queensland parliament on Monday, the report will describe how small animals such as kittens, rabbits, piglets and possums were used to “blood” greyhounds, while dogs that lost too many races were cruelly treated and killed.

Some had their ears cut; others were bludgeoned to death, according to some submissions to the inquiry.

Mr MacSporran said people who were already before the courts on animal cruelty charges were not included in the report.

“Although there is no definitive evidence it is widespread… it would be naive in the extreme to think it was not widespread,” he said of such behaviour.

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Eurovision: Ireland and Portugal out

Molly Sterling at Eurovision

Molly Sterling performed her ballad, Playing With Numbers, from behind a piano

Ireland, the most successful country in Eurovision history, has crashed out of this year’s competition after failing to make it through the semi-final.

The seven-time winners couldn’t muster enough votes for their youngest ever entrant, 17-year-old Molly Sterling.

Iceland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Malta, Portugal and San Marino also failed to make the cut.

Sweden, the bookmakers’ favourite, sailed through to Saturday’s grand final in Vienna.

Its act, Mans Zelmerlow, joins automatic qualifiers Austria, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and special guests Australia.

The full list of 10 acts to qualify from Thursday’s semi-final is as follows:

  • Lithuania – Monika Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila: This Time
  • Poland – Monika Kuszynska: In The Name Of Love
  • Slovenia– Maraaya: Here For You
  • Sweden – Mans Zelmerlow: Heroes
  • Norway – Morland: A Monster Like Me
  • Montenegro – Knez: Adio
  • Cyprus – John Karagiannis: One Thing I Should Have Done
  • Azerbaijan – Elnur Huseynov: Hour of the Wolf
  • Latvia – Aminata: Love Injected

Despite Ireland’s historical success at Eurovision, it has struggled in the 21st Century.

It has taken last place twice, in 2007 and 2013, and failed to progress beyond the semi-finals five times since they were introduced in 2004.

However, Ireland has fared better than the Czech Republic, which has never made it to the grand final.

The UK will be represented at Saturday’s show by duo Electro Velvet, whose song, Still In Love With You, has been described as an “electro swing” track.

The final will be broadcast on BBC One from 20:00 BST, and there will be live updates and discussion on the BBC News website’s dedicated Eurovision live page.

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Ireland holds same-sex marriage vote

Banners encouraging voters to support the Yes and the No campaign in the Irish same-sex marriage referendum

The result of the referendum is expected some time on Saturday

Voters in the Republic of Ireland are taking part in a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage on Friday.

More than 3.2m people are being asked whether they want to amend the country’s constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 BST with voting continuing until 22:00 BST and counting due to start on Saturday morning.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 19 countries worldwide.

Differences

Votes have already been cast in some islands as well as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. Only Irish citizens who are registered and living in the state can take part.

They will be asked whether they agree with the statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”.

The referendum is being held 22 years after Ireland decriminalised homosexuality.

In 2010, the government enacted civil partnership legislation, which provided legal recognition for gay couples.

But there are some important differences between civil partnership and marriage, the critical one being that marriage is protected in the constitution while civil partnership is not.

Presidential candidates

A constitutional convention established by the Irish government in 2013 considered the specifics of a proposal on extending marriage rights, as well as discussing other changes to the constitution.

It voted in favour of holding a referendum on same-sex marriage and the date was announced by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny earlier this year.

A separate referendum, on whether the eligibility age of presidential candidates should be lowered from 35 to 21, is being held at the same time, along with a parliamentary by-election in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency.

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Tom Inglis is Professor of Sociology at University College Dublin. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

Women, single people and those living in urban areas were more likely to vote in favor, but the main division was along age lines. Only a third of those over 65 said they would vote Yes, compared to 70% of those under 34.

Opinion polls over the past few years indicate that the size of the Yes vote is declining, albeit slowly — among those who said they had decided, it was as high as 80% last December. The big questions, then, are to what extent there is a shy No vote and to what extent the young people will turn up to vote.

What are the arguments?

The referendum is said to be about many things. The Yes proponents say that it is simply about giving gay and lesbian couples the same constitutional rights as heterosexual couples. Legislation passed in 2010 gave similar but not equal rights and responsibilities to gay and lesbian couples. A Yes vote will copper-fasten equal rights to all married couples regardless of sex.

    The No campaign has emphasized that a Yes vote will change the definition of marriage and that it will have implications for adoption and surrogacy and that, in general, it will undermine family life.

    Accepting gay love

    In many respects the referendum is a litmus test as to what extent Ireland has become a modern, liberal, cosmopolitan society that approximates to the rest of the West, or to what extent it is a conservative, rural, Catholic society. The poll may be about rights, but it is also inevitably a test to decide if Irish people recognize and accept homosexuality and that two men, or two women, can love each other with the same intensity and passion as a heterosexual couple and whether the state should bless their love.

    At a deeper level, the referendum is about whether Irish people can accept that gay and lesbian couples have sex which is as pleasurable and fulfilling as it is for heterosexual couples and that, when homosexual couples have children, those children are not harmed by having two parents of the same gender.

    The role of the church

    The referendum is also about the extent to which the Catholic church still acts as the moral conscience of Irish society. Once upon a time, the church held a monopoly over what Irish people considered to be right and wrong and how to live a good life. The vast majority of Catholics who formed the vast majority of the population in the Republic, followed the rules and regulations of the church.

    However during the latter half of the 20th century this changed dramatically. It used to be that 90% of Catholics went to Mass once a week. Now it is about 35%.

    Despite this falling off in attendance, the 2011 census showed that 84% of the population freely declared themselves to be Roman Catholics. But being Catholic is not what it used to be. It would seem that approximately a third could be classified as traditional, orthodox Catholics, the majority of whom are older and live in rural areas.

    Culture change

    It would seem that the majority of Irish Catholics have become “cultural” Catholics. The majority of these cultural Catholics see being Catholic as part of their heritage. They are quite willing to send their children to Catholic schools: 90% of primary schools are owned by the Catholic church.

    Cultural Catholics are quite willing to have their children baptized, to participate in their first Holy Communions and confirmations, to get married and be buried as Catholics. Being Catholic may not be a strong personal identity but it is still often central to family and community life.

    The question this Friday is to what extent this cultural identity embraces liberal, cosmopolitan attitudes to being gay.

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Dublin, Ireland (CNN)Ireland is holding a landmark vote Friday on whether to change its constitution to allow same-sex marriage.

If the referendum is passed, Ireland will become the first country in the world to adopt same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

When they go to the polls, Ireland’s voters will be asked to approve this statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

If more say “yes” than say “no,” the change to the constitution will give gay and lesbian couples the right to civil marriage, but not to be wed in a church.

As in many other countries around the world, the issue is a polarizing one. And the referendum will be a test of whether in Ireland, a majority Catholic nation, more liberal thinking wins out over conservative, traditional leanings.

    Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote suggest the “yes” vote is on track to come out on top — but that the gap is narrowing.

    It wasn’t hard to find evidence of the divide in the streets of Dublin on the eve of the vote.

    Daithi Galvin, 40 years old and a self-described devout atheist, told CNN that he would be voting yes “because Ireland deserves to be an equal community” in which “everyone, whether you be young or old, or black or white, or rich or poor, man or woman, has the right to be happy.”

    But he said he feared the fierce debate — and a “yes” campaign some have seen as aggressive — might have led the degree of support for the measure to be overstated.

    “There are people out there who will feel that they can’t publicly say no, but that’s the idea of democracy, that democracy should allow people to say yes or no because that’s their opinion,” he said.

    Joanna Jordan, also in Dublin, is on the opposite side of the fence.

    “I’m voting no because as far as I’m concerned, marriage has always been between a man and a woman since the beginning of time and there’s no reason to change it,” she told CNN. “Marriage is basically to set the scene for children to come into the world in the best possible way.”

    She also believes the debate has been too polarizing to be sure which way the referendum will go.

    “It’s so divisive, people aren’t talking about it, and Irish people love to talk!” she said. But if the referendum passes, “I would be sad for the country because family is so important and the foundation of the state is the family and if you break the foundation, you break the state.”

    Prime Minister: ‘Obliterate’ prejudice

    A Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes Poll published Sunday indicted 63% of those surveyed supported the change, with 26% opposed and 11% undecided. That represented a 10% drop in support for the measure since March.

    An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll last week suggested 70% of voters who had made up their minds on the issue were in favor of the change to the constitution, and only 30% opposed. The poll did not include those who were undecided, which came to 17% of respondents.

    Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach) Enda Kenny told TV3’s “Ireland AM” program last week that he believed the referendum would be close but that he was “confident it will be passed.”

    Speaking this week, Kenny confirmed he himself would be voting yes. He added that the country could “create history” and that a “yes” vote would “obliterate” prejudice along with irrational fears of difference.

    Any change to the constitution has to be put to a referendum. The decision to put the question to the vote in the first place was born out of consultation with members of the public.

    In other countries that allow same-sex marriage, the decision was made by the government or the courts.

    ‘About civil marriage equality’

    Ireland’s “Yes” campaign has been spearheaded by an umbrella group called Yes Equality, established by gay rights campaign groups, with the backing of civic society groups and grassroots campaigners across the country.

    It also has the support of Ireland’s political parties.

    The right to civil partnership for same-sex couples in Ireland was introduced in 2010. But on its website, Yes Equality argues that it differs significantly from marriage in the level of recognition and protection it affords to same-sex couples and their families.

    “Civil partnership is a separate and unequal institution, available only to same-sex couples. It does not provide constitutional protection, nor does it provide certainty for next of kin including in medical situations,” it states.

    The outcome of the referendum won’t have any bearing on surrogacy or adoption rights, it says.

    It also represents no threat to religious freedom, it says. “The referendum is about civil marriage equality. Churches will be able to continue with religious ceremonies and will not be required to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.”

    Allowing lesbian and gay people to get married will have no impact on anyone else’s marriage, the group says.

    “Irish people are fair-minded, welcoming and confident. This referendum is about making our laws reflect those values.”

    For Pat Carey, 67 and a former minister for equality, the path to the referendum has been a personal journey as much as a political one.

    “I’m a former minister of a former government who at the ripe old age of 65 summoned up the courage to tell his family and friends that he was gay,” he told CNN.

    No longer in politics, he has now embraced the role of advocate for change. “I have been talking about people like myself for the last three months, and there are many of us, living in very lonely and isolated conditions — and that’s not just people living in rural Ireland, that’s people living in mentally very isolating conditions.

    “And I think if we’ve done nothing else, we’ve given some confidence back to that generation that a younger generation cares about them too, and that if this vote goes the right way on Friday we’ll be living in a more generous, kinder and gentler Ireland.”

    ‘Threat to religious freedom’

    Opposition to the constitutional change has been largely organized by Catholic groups, who’ve focused on a message of protecting the traditional family.

    A video produced by one such group, Mandate for Marriage, argues that “redefining marriage” is a global threat to religious freedom pushed by “homosexual activists” and has been rejected by voters elsewhere, including some states in the U.S.

    It also posits that redefining marriage is bad for parents and children. “Without exception, every child reared by a same-sex couple is denied either a father or a mother,” the narrator states.

    John Murray, chairman of the Iona Institute, a conservative Catholic think tank that advocates for the “No” campaign, takes a similar view.

    “The union between a man and a woman should be defended,” he told CNN. “We believe that it’s under very serious threat, this aim to change it into a gender neutral institution completely.

    “And doing this we think will endanger children because it will deprive children of a mother or a father deliberately, with the backing of the state in the future.”

    The Catholic Church, while its position in Ireland has been eroded by a series of child sex abuse scandals involving the clergy, still wields considerable influence with more traditional sectors of society.

    While the Church has not told churchgoers which way to vote, Catholic bishops sent out letters at the weekend to be read out at Mass in their parishes.

    In his note, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, urged voters to “consider very carefully the profound implications” the constitutional change might have for families and the nation’s understanding of parenthood.

    “I know that the severity with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past — and in some cases still today — makes it difficult for some to understand the Church’s position,” he said.

    “The change is not simply about extending marriage rights to others; it is not just a debate about religious views; it is a fundamental change in the philosophy which underpins cohesion in society and thus affects and concerns every citizen.”

    Martin also recalled that in the debates around same-sex marriage in Argentina, Pope Francis had made clear he was opposed to it, but “he was consistent in telling people not to make judgements on any individual.”

    Gay cake row

    The divisive nature of the issue came to forefront in neighboring Northern Ireland this week, where a bakery lost a high-profile discrimination case after refusing to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

    Gay rights activists win battle over Bert amp; Ernie cakepkg soares uk gay cake ruling_00001307

    MUST WATCH

    Same-sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland, but it is in the rest of the United Kingdom.

    Other nations to allow gay marriage include Canada, Brazil, Argentina, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Finland, New Zealand and South Africa.

    Gay marriage is also legal in parts of Mexico and the United States. U.S. Supreme Court justices are due to give their ruling in June on whether states are required to license same-sex marriages and recognize those nuptials performed in other jurisdictions.

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VIDEO: Ireland in same-sex marriage vote

People in the Republic of Ireland will vote on a same-sex marriage referendum this Friday.

If it passes Ireland will become the first country to introduce gay marriage through a ballot.

Newsnight’s Special Correspondent Katie Razzall reports.

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Bioluminescence lights up Australia’s shores

(CNN)The shores of Hobart, Tasmania, have been twinkling a bright, neon blue the past few days, turning the water’s surface into a scene that looks out of this world.

Photographers have flocked to the glowing waters to witness the bioluminescent phenomenon firsthand.

Jo Malcomson, owner of Blackpaw Photography, splashed in the water Monday while capturing the bright display at South Arm, a town on the outskirts of Hobart.

“It was very much like entering into a magical wonderland. It’s a childlike wondrous experience, which completely absorbs one’s attention and captures one’s imagination,” he said.

The bioluminescence is caused by blooms of large single-cell organisms called dinoflagellates. The particular dinoflagellate glowing in the Australian waters is the Noctiluca scintillans species.

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