Second DNA found on Kovco gun

NSW Police homicide squad detective inspector Wayne Hayes told the inquiry test swabs on the 9mm pistol revealed DNA from another, unknown, person on the gun’s trigger, slide and grip.

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Det Insp Hayes said he would like to fly to Baghdad as soon as possible to take voluntary DNA samples from Pte Kovco’s two roommates, who were with him when he was shot on April 21 this year.

The inquiry has heard previously that the two roommates were in the tiny barracks they shared with Pte Kovco when the gun went off.

However, they have both told the inquiry they did not see the gun discharge.

Det Insp Hayes said DNA tests had already been carried out on military police and NSW police officers who had handled the gun with gloves on, but none of their genetic material was found on the weapon.

He said it was possible that other soldiers could have unknowingly touched the gun after the shooting while they were trying to save Pte Kovco’s life, or that they dripped perspiration onto the gun.

Another possibility was that Pte Kovco’s two roommates handled the gun when they were allowed back into the room to collect some of their belongings, he said.

Det Insp Hayes said based on photographs of the shooting scene, it was clear the gun had been moved at some stage.

He said that while there could be up to 30 soldiers needing to be DNA tested, he believed priority should be given to Pte Kovco’s roommates and two other soldiers, none of whom can be named.

The test would probably take a maximum of two days, with swabs being sent back to Australia for analysis and results produced within two weeks, he said.

Aboriginal ‘showcase’ scheme

Mr Brough told an indigenous business conference in Sydney that such a scheme could employ Aborigines from remote and regional communities, which had an excess of fit and able underemployed workers.

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The minister said he was meeting with Tourism Training Australia consultant Bill Galvin to explore the idea.

Mr Brough said one scheme he had in mind was to have Aborigines from remote communities working at the reception of hotels such as Sydney’s Hilton.

“We will take young people, who are selected because they want to see a change in their own lives, want an opportunity, who may not have the educational qualifications yet, from those regional communities,” Mr Brough said.

“We will put them front-of-house in five-star hotels throughout Australia. There will be a lot of challenges with that, but it does two things.

“It provides opportunity for those people. It also provides an opportunity for Australia to showcase our first Australians, and that is exactly what tourists come here to see.

“When they turn up to our major tourist attractions they don’t see many of our first Australians. We can open up opportunities both ways,” he said.

The minister said he wanted to expand a program started by Queensland Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson that sent people away from remote communities to work interstate.

Mr Brough said those workers were given a one-way fare to work on farms where they were mentored and taught skills.

Mr Brough said he was searching for opportunities to expand that program in the agriculture and tourism industries.

Aust defence staff for Beirut

Logistic experts are among the defence personnel who will work with Department of Foreign Affairs staff, as frustration increases for Australians trapped in the country.

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It comes after an Australian chartered ship from Turkey was gazumped by another country on Wednesday, leaving hundreds of people waiting at Beirut’s port.

However, security fears over the port meant the ship never even arrived.

Australians evacuated to Cyprus

Australian officials had appealed to Britain to evacuate priority cases on navy warships after the double-booking of the Turkish ferry.

They now hope a British naval destroyer which had arrived in Cyprus was also transporting Australian citizens evacuated from Lebanon.

It’s believed a number of Australians were aboard the HMS Gloucester which had docked in the Cypriot port of Limassol with 513 evacuees on board.

But there’s been no breakdown of the nationalities aboard Gloucester which was making its second evacuation run from Beirut.

Earlier there were a number of Australians among an estimated 300 evacuees from Lebanon though aboard a British navy destroyer which docked safely in Cyprus late Wednesday.

The HMS York docked just after 9 pm Wednesday local time (4 am Thursday AEST) in the Cypriot port of Limassol unloading men women and children including small babies.

They have been taken from the ship by bus into a nearby hanger for processing.

Australian consular officials were waiting to greet the Australian refugees coming off the ship but it’s not yet known how many Australians were on board.

Journey home

The evacuees will be taken to the nearby Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri where they’ll be given the option of flying to the UK on planes chartered by the British government.

Those who don’t wish to make that trip can stay in Cyprus but will have to find their own accommodation and make their own travel plans.

Another British naval destroyer HMS Gloucester is expected to arrive in the early hours of Thursday morning local time carrying another 650 civilians from Lebanon.

More ships chartered

Australian officials are now trying to find places for those stranded Australian evacuees on British, Canadian and US ships.

They are also hoping more will make their way out on Wednesday, with a Greek naval landing ship tipped to be used to move more out.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said solid contracts had been reached to use chartered ships to move more than 2,000 people out of the country over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Prime Minister John Howard has spoken to his Canadian counterpart about possible spaces on its naval vessels, however Mr Downer said it was unlikely these ships could get into Beirut.

There are also grave concerns for up to 400 Australians who are thought to be trapped in southern Lebanon.

Mr Downer said there was nothing Australia could do to help these people, offering just a few words of advice to them.

“Stay put, but make sure you keep well away from Hezbollah or any Hezbollah infrastructure,” he said.

Claims investigated

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Department is investigating claims that Australians trapped in Lebanon are being asked to pay a thousand dollars to be evacuated.

According to the ABC, an Adelaide woman has reportedly been told that evacuees would have to pay to get on a ferry or bus arranged by the Australian embassy.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said Australians should not be paying a fee to evacuate, and the claims are being taken very seriously.

Americans evacuated

A US-chartered ship carrying more than 1,000 Americans to safety from Lebanon arrived in the Cypriot port of Larnaca early Thursday.

In the first large American evacuation from Lebanon since the conflict erupted a week ago, the Greek cruise ship Orient Queen sailed from Beirut with 1,059 people on board.

It was the latest in a growing flotilla of evacuee ships being hurriedly assembled by Western governments.

Marine helicopters had flown out small groups of Americans from the US embassy on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital to a British air force base on Cyprus in previous days.

Meanwhile thousands of Lebanese have joined foreigners braving the road to Syria to flee the Israeli bombardments that’s killed more than 290 people in eight days.

Israel attacked Lebanon after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight on the 12th of July.

Hezbollah rocket strikes have killed 15 civilians in Israel.

Evacuations set to start

Hundreds have gathered in the uncomfortable and hot conditions, waiting to catch a chartered ferry to Cyprus or Turkey.

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It’s hoped that between 500 and 1,000 people will be shipped out later today, with the total rising up to 6,500 by Sunday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised Australians unable to get out of Lebanon today to return and try tomorrow.

Extra defence and diplomatic staff have been sent to Beirut, with 65 defence logistics and medical personnel leaving Sydney on a chartered flight early this morning.

Another 29 diplomatic staff have also been sent into Beirut and locations in Turkey and Cyprus.

No guarantee

Earlier in the day Prime Minister John Howard said he couldn’t guarantee the evacuation – the largest ever moment of Australians overseas – would take place on time.

“I do ask people to understand the challenges involved here,” he told ABC Radio.

“I think the Department of Foreign Affairs has done a remarkable job in very difficult circumstances. And I think some of the criticism is quite unfair and I reject it.”

Australia has already been outbid in its efforts to charter a ship to take thousands of citizens out of the war zone, and Mr Howard said he could give no guarantees against further problems amid the chaos at Beirut port.

“I stress it’s very chaotic,” he said.

“Arrangements have broken down in the past, not only for Australia but for other countries, and there’s no guarantee that won’t happen in the future.

“Suggestions that the Government has abandoned Australian citizens in Lebanon is quite wrong and I totally reject those suggestions.”

Cyprus airlift

The Government is set to begin a major airlift of Australians out of Cyprus, swinging military and commercial planes into action to get thousands of evacuees from Lebanon back home.

Cyprus is struggling to cope with the massive influx of people after thousands fled to the island.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is expected to announce plans to mobilise commercial and military aircraft to fly citizens directly home – or to alternative departure points – and then onto Australia.

“In the case of Cyprus, there just isn’t going to be the infrastructure to support all the foreigners arriving there,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer.

“So we are going to have to get people out of Cyprus to hubs, probably in the Middle East and Europe, but we haven’t finalised the details.”

The Government has already diverted a C-130 Hercules from Iraq to help with the operation.

Evacuees may be charged

Evacuees may be charged for part of the estimated A$25m cost of the operation.

While Mr Downer said the issue of cost is still being finalised, the Government’s won’t be charging Australians for their evacuation from Lebanon.

But he said he’s examining the issue about whether it’ll pay for people to be returned from a staging post in Europe or from the Middle East back to Australia.

“We hope to make an announcement about that tomorrow,” he said.

$1million for World War One VC

The medal was purchased by a prominent philanthropic Australian businessman who said he wished to remain anonymous.

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But it was later revealed that the mystery bidder was the owner of the Seven Network, Kerry Stokes.

Lot 1078 included seven other medals with a combined value of less than $100,000.

The VC was awarded posthumously to New Zealand-born Australian soldier Captain Alfred Shout and was put up for auction by his grandson, 67-year-old Graham Thomas.

The A$1 million price tag breaks the record of A$595,000 set in 2005 for a medal won by captain Thomas Hardy at Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805.

The highest price paid previously for a VC was A$575,000 in 2004 for a medal awarded to Sergeant Norman C Jackson, a British Royal Air Force pilot during World War II in 1944.

Auctioneer Tim Goodman, of Bonhams and Goodman auction house, told the crowd there were plans for the medal to soon be on public display.

“I can confirm the buyer is a prominent Australian businessman who is going to work with the RSL to make sure the medals go on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra,” Mr Goodman said before Mr Stokes’ identity had been revealed.

Highly decorated

The war memorial holds the other eight VCs awarded to Australians for service at Gallipoli. Capt Shout was mortally wounded at Lone Pine when the last of three grenades he ignited blew up in his face.

He was the most highly decorated Australian soldier to serve during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, being awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the botched landing at Anzac Cove in April.

Capt Shout was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the Battle of Lone Pine in August that year.

Mr Thomas said his grandfather would have approved of the sale. “He’d probably say ‘you did a bloody good job’,” said Mr Thomas, who planned to celebrate over a beer.

Mr Thomas said his decision to sell the medals, passed to him by his mother, had met with very little criticism.

All up Mr Stokes paid A$1,214,500, including commission and other charges.