Macmahon, AMNT in "transformational" deal

Macmahon Holdings has signed a “potentially transformational” deal with Indonesia’s PT Amman Mineral Nusa Tenggara that will boost its revenue and earnings and make the Indonesian company its biggest shareholder.

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Under the deal, Macmahon will provide earthmoving and mining services for AMNT’s Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Indonesia.

Macmahon says the contract for the life of the mine is expected to generate revenue of $US2.9 billion and materially improve earnings in the 2018 financial year.

It now expects earnings before interest and tax for the 2018 financial year of between $40 million and $50 million.

Under the deal, Macmahon also will acquire $US145.6 million of mining equipment from AMNT and pay for it by issuing about 954 million of its shares to AMNT’s subsidiary, Amman Mineral Contractors, at a price of $A0.203 per share.

That will make AMC Macmahon’s biggest shareholder, with a stake of 44.3 per cent.

The deal is subject to approval from Macmahon shareholders.

Macmahon on Monday said that all of its directors believe the deal could be transformational for the company and could position it as a leading force in mining services.

It said the deal would give it a regional profile and scale, and could lead to other work in Indonesia.

Its directors unanimously recommend that shareholders support the transaction.

“If completed, this transaction will see Macmahon’s scale significantly increase and that brings with it a number of benefits which will assist us in the execution of new and existing projects,” Macmahon chief executive Michael Finnegan said in a statement.

“It will make us a stronger and more robust business, and will provide us with a supportive and strategically aligned major shareholder which should help us to grow even further.”

Macmahon shareholders are expected to meet in July to consider the deal.

Shares in Macmahon were steady at 15.5 cents at 1129 AEST.

Freed Chibok girls to meet Nigeria’s Buhari after swap deal

The girls – who were among more than 200 kidnapped in 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, northeast Nigeria – travelled to the capital Abuja a day after their release to meet Buhari.

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“I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom,” Buhari said in a statement, pledging that the presidency would “personally supervise” authorities charged with ensuring the girls’ “health, education, security and general well-being”.

Presidential aide Bashir Ahmad tweeted a photograph of the girls, most of whom were sitting on the floor of Buhari’s official residence, as the president sat in an armchair dressed in white traditional robes.

The meeting came shortly before Buhari was whisked out of the country on Sunday evening after weeks of concern over his health, heading to London for “follow-up medical consultation”, according to his spokesman Femi Adesina.

The teenagers, who had been taken to a medical facility for checks after arriving in Abuja by military helicopter, met with the president for about 45 minutes, said an AFP reporter at the scene.

Chibok school girls recently freed from Boko Haram captivity are seen in Abuja Nigeria’s Sunday, May. 7, 2017 (AAP)AP

Adesina said they had now been “handed over to those who will supervise their rehabilitation”.

He did not comment on how many imprisoned members of Boko Haram – whose fight to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead since 2009 – had been released in the swap.

But AFP understands at least three suspected senior commanders, all of them Chadian nationals, were handed over.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed said he could not confirm claims that as many five militants were released.

‘Joyous moment’

The girls arrived from the northeastern town of Banki, on the border with Cameroon, and were met at the airport by Buhari’s chief of staff Abba Kyari.

“Welcome our girls, welcome our sisters, we are glad to have you back,” Kyari told them, describing it as “a very joyous moment”.

A military source said one of the girls was “carrying a baby with her, a boy of less than two years”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it “facilitated the safe return” of the girls as a “neutral intermediary” and tweeted photographs of girls boarding a military helicopter.

Many of the students wore colourful akara print dresses, visibly tired from their ordeal.

The presidency had announced late Saturday that months of talks with the jihadists had “yielded results” some six months after 21 other Chibok girls were freed with the help of the ICRC and the Swiss government.

Watch: ICRC discusses release of Chibok girls 

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Symbol of conflict

Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on the evening of April 14, 2014, and kidnapped 276 teenaged girls who were preparing to sit high school exams.

Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group.

Boko Haram’s Shekau claimed in a video message that they had converted to Islam.

The audacious kidnapping brought the insurgency to world attention, triggering global outrage that galvanised support from the former US first lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood stars.

The girls have become a symbol of the Nigerian conflict. Last month, parents and supporters marked the three-year anniversary of the abduction, describing the situation as an unending “nightmare”.

But they said previous releases had given them strength.

Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, said of the latest releases: “This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day.

“We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.”

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Military and civilian militia sources in Banki said the girls were brought back to the town in ICRC vehicles late on Saturday afternoon and stayed in the military barracks there overnight.

Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war, seizing thousands of women and children, and forcibly recruiting young men and boys into their ranks.

In a less publicised attack in November 2014, some 300 children were among about 500 people kidnapped from the town of Damasak, on the border with Niger, in the far north of Borno state.

Most are still missing.

Ongoing talks

The release of the 21 girls in October last year followed talks between Boko Haram and the Nigerian authorities brokered by the ICRC and the Swiss government.

Three other girls have also been found. The first had a baby and was accompanied by a man she said was her husband but the military said was a Boko Haram suspect.

Shekau has previously said the girls would be released if militant fighters held in government custody were freed.

When the 21 were freed, Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu said the government was hoping to secure the release of 83 others being held by a different Boko Haram faction.

A total of 113 Chibok girls are now missing, although Shekau claimed last August that some had been killed in military air strikes.

On Friday, Britain and the United States issued a security alert warning of a Boko Haram plot to kidnap foreigners in the Banki area, which led to the suspension of aid flights to the town on Saturday.

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Texas governor signs law banning sanctuary cities

Greg Abbott took the unusual step of signing the legislation – which threatens sheriffs with arrest if they refuse to cooperate with federal authorities – during a live Facebook video broadcast.

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“Citizens expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law, and citizens deserve law breakers to face legal consequences,” he said before signing the law.

“Texans expect us to keep them safe, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

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The law prohibits cities from declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” – an unofficial designation – requiring local officials to carry out federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.

The bill prompted protests in Texas, including a sit-in in Abbott’s office.

The police chiefs of Houston and Dallas – the state’s two largest cities – last week called the measure a “burden” on local law enforcement agencies.

Other critics say the new law may be used to discriminate against Latinos and other minorities.

“Gov. Abbott just gave Texas police a license to discriminate,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted.

President Donald Trump has blasted the sanctuary cities movement opposing his hard-line immigration policies.

His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has accused them of allowing illegal immigrants who are violent criminals to go free.

Trump has promised to expel a large part of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

However, last month a court blocked his executive order to deny cities harboring undocumented immigrants billions of dollars in federal funding.

More than 300 cities and counties have denounced the order.

Watch: Australians learn how to give sanctuary to asylum seekers 0:00 Share

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Parliament returns for budget sessions

Federal parliament returns on Tuesday for the budget and a big legislative agenda spanning company tax cuts, media reform and a long-term plan for schools.

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Treasurer Scott Morrison will deliver his second budget, armed with a new slogan: fairness, opportunity and security.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is hoping this year’s budget forms the basis of a political reset for the coalition, having scraped into office by one seat at a double-dissolution election called immediately after the 2016 budget.

The government will dump the remaining “zombie measures” from the controversial 2014 budget, while delivering an anticipated record spend on infrastructure, schools, national security and health.

Labor will deliver its budget reply on Thursday.

It will be the first parliamentary sitting since March and comes as the coalition lags Labor in opinion polls, but Mr Turnbull maintains a solid preferred prime minister lead over Labor leader Bill Shorten.

The nation’s newest senator, former Family First candidate Lucy Gichuhi, will be sworn in on Tuesday, while One Nation’s Peter Georgiou – who filled disqualified senator Rod Culleton’s West Australian seat – will deliver his first speech on Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate’s numbers will be restored to its full complement of 76 seats, meaning the government will need 10 extra votes on top of its 29 to pass legislation.

And there’s a hefty program of bills to manage through the upper house.

Mr Morrison will bring in the second tranche of his company tax cuts, delivering a break for businesses with annual turnovers of more than $50 million.

However it is likely to face a tougher time than the cuts for small business, which received the backing of the Nick Xenophon Team and One Nation.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham wants parliament’s approval for laws to back up his Gonski 2.0 schools funding plan, which Labor is expected to oppose and hammer in question time.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield will make a concerted push for media ownership reform, including the abolition of the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the “two out of three” rule.

Laws to protect vulnerable workers, which came out of the 7-Eleven scandal, and a bill to bring in the government’s Youth Jobs Path program for the young unemployed are also on the agenda.

Inquiry reports are due to be tabled in relation to the dairy industry, oil and gas production in the Great Australian Bight and the plan to impose GST on low value imported goods.

Head of Islamic State in Afghanistan confirmed killed

The head of Islamic State in Afghanistan, Abdul Hasib, was killed in an operation on April 27 conducted jointly by Afghan and U.

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S. Special Forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar, U.S. and Afghan officials said on Sunday.

Hasib, appointed last year after his predecessor Hafiz Saeed Khan died in a U.S. drone strike, is believed to have ordered a series of high profile attacks including one in March 8 on the main military hospital in Kabul, a statement said.

Last month, a Pentagon spokesman said Hasib had probably been killed during the raid by U.S. and Afghan special forces in Nangarhar during which two U.S. army Rangers were killed, but prior to Sunday’s announcement there had been no confirmation.

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“This successful joint operation is another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat ISIS-K in 2017,” the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson said in a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul.

The statement, following an earlier announcement by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said Hasib directed the March 8 attack on the main Kabul military hospital by a group of militants disguised as doctors. Dozens of medical staff and patients were killed in the attack.

It said he also ordered fighters to behead local elders in front of their families and kidnap women and girls to force them to marry ISIS fighters.

The local affiliate of Islamic State, sometimes known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region that includes Afghanistan, has been active since 2015, fighting both the Taliban as well as Afghan and U.S. forces.

It is believed to maintain links with the main Islamic State movement in Iraq and Syria but has considerable operational independence.

U.S. and Afghan special forces, backed by drone strikes and other air support, have waged a series of operations against IS-K since March, killing dozens of their fighters, mainly in Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan.

Defeating the group remains one of the top U.S. priorities in Afghanistan and last month the United States dropped its largest non-nuclear device on a network of caves and tunnels used by ISIS in Nangarhar, killing 94 fighters, including four commanders.

The U.S. military statement said 35 Islamic State fighters and several high ranking commanders were killed in the April 27 raid.

Hundreds of fighters had been killed or captured this year and the offensive was continuing, with over half the districts controlled by ISIS-K retaken, allowing residents in some places to return for the first time in two years.

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