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Refugee footballer freed by Thailand returns to Australia
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Refugee footballer freed by Thailand returns to Australia

Refugee footballer freed by Thailand returns to Australia
Photo Credit: David Crosling/AAP Image via AP
Refugee soccer player Hakeem Al-Araibi, right, arrives in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, flanked by former Australia national team captain Craig Foster. Al-Araibi returned to Australia after the threat of extradition to Bahrain was lifted and three months after he was detained in Thailand. (David Crosling/AAP Image via AP)

Refugee footballer freed by Thailand returns to Australia

A refugee soccer player thanked Australians on his return home Tuesday hours after the threat of extradition to Bahrain was lifted and three months after he was detained in Thailand.

Hundreds of supporters carrying welcome signs and singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" were waiting at Melbourne Airport when Hakeem al-Araibi arrived on a commercial flight direct from Bangkok.

"I would like to say thanks to Australia," Al-Araibi told the cheering crowd. "It's amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me."

Thailand had come under great pressure from Australia's government, sporting bodies and human rights groups to send Hakeem al-Araibi back to Australia, where he has refugee status and plays semi-professional soccer.

Former Australia national team captain Craig Foster, who has been leading the campaign for al-Araibi's release, said he could not sleep until he received word from the Australian embassy in Bangkok that the 25-year-old's flight had left.

Foster was by al-Araibi's side with an arm around the footballer as they faced the crowd.

"So this is the man, probably the most famous young man in Australia right now," Foster said. "Something of this magnitude doesn't happen without an incredible team behind, and there's been an amazing coalition of people, right from around the world."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who wrote twice to his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha in a bid to secure al-Araibi's freedom, thanked Australians as well as Thai authorities.

"I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieving this outcome," Morrison tweeted.

"We are grateful to the Thai government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia," he added.

Two Australian expert cave divers who had helped rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thai cave in July also wrote to the Thai prime minister last week pleading for al-Araibi's release.

Anesthetist Richard Harris and his dive buddy Craig Challen, a retired veterinarian, were last month named joint winners of Australian of the Year Award trophies, one of Australia's most prestigious awards.

"The issue had just gained more and more prominence and Richard and I both realized that we're in a position to hopefully give the issue a little bit of a nudge and contribute in our own little way," Challen told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Thai prosecutors on Monday submitted a request to a court to withdraw the case to extradite al-Araibi to Bahrain, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence for an arson attack that damaged a police station. He has denied those charges and says the case is politically motivated.

Prosecutors made the decision after Thailand's foreign ministry sent their department a letter Monday indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for al-Araibi, a Thai official said.

Officials in Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, said the country "reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against" al-Araibi.

Al-Araibi, a former Bahraini national team player, says he fled Bahrain due to political repression and that he fears torture if he returns.

He was detained at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a honeymoon with his wife.

Thailand's foreign ministry said last week that al-Araibi was detained because Australian authorities had forwarded them an Interpol Red Notice that Bahrain was seeking his arrest. Australian police acknowledged doing so, but there have been questions raised about why the Red Notice appeared to have been issued just before al-Araibi departed, and whether Bahraini authorities had been tipped off about his travel plans.

With al-Araibi now free, attention has quickly shifted to who is to blame for his predicament in Thailand.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said senators will quiz Australian bureaucrats at committee hearings next week about why the system had failed al-Araibi.

"I'd encourage the government to be upfront about this," Wong said. "I think the Australian community does want to know how this occurred and we do need to consider whether the system is fit-for-purpose."

Guy Goodwin-Gill, a University of New South Wales expert on international law, said both Australia and Interpol had mishandled al-Araibi's case.

Australian Federal Police should not have advised Thailand that someone subject to a Red Notice was traveling. Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should have advised al-Araibi not to travel until the Red Notice was revoked, Goodwin-Gill said.

Interpol should exercise more oversight and review the circumstances of cases with a political element, he said.

It was not clear whether Australia had informed Bahrain that al-Araibi was flying, although Bahrain requested the Red Notice on the same day that al-Araibi received his Thai visa, Goodwin-Gill said.

Foster called for an investigation of Interpol.

"This concept of countries using the Red Notice in order to try to refoul people that they want to return for nefarious reasons has to now become a very serious issue and it is something that we'll be taking up in the coming months," Foster said.

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Local News

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  • Joni Taylor coached the Lady Dogs to an 22-point win over Ole Miss last night. She gave birth this morning. Drew is 6 lbs 8 ounces and 20 inches long and Taylor tot No. 2. From UGA Sports Communications... Georgia Lady Bulldog basketball head coach Joni Taylor and her husband Darius welcomed their second child — Drew Simone Taylor — at 7:29 a.m. Tuesday in Athens.    Drew is 20 inches long and weighs 6 pounds, 8 ounces and both she and Joni are resting well. She is the Taylor’s second daughter. Jacie Elise Taylor was born on Nov. 3, 2016.    “Darius and I feel so blessed to be the parents of such a sweet little girl, and I know Jacie is thrilled to be a big sister,” Taylor said. “I can’t express how much joy Drew has already brought to our family. We want to thank everyone in the Georgia community for your prayers and encouragement during this happy season of our lives. I am thrilled that Drew will be surrounded by so many special people, and that she will be a part of the Bulldog family.”    Coach Taylor led Georgia to a 78-56 win against Ole Miss Monday evening, less than 12 hours before giving birth. Plans for her return to the Georgia bench will be announced at a later date.     Associate head coach Karen Lange will assume head coaching duties during Taylor’s absence. 
  • Labs and research support spaces across campus will be getting an upgrade, thanks to a $1.5 million presidential initiative that seeks to build on the university’s dramatic growth in research activity.   Presidential renovation funds have been distributed to nine schools and colleges and will be used to upgrade labs and replace core equipment that enables faculty members to conduct research and be more competitive in seeking grant funding. Proposals were solicited from deans and chosen based on links to college and university strategic priorities, as well as implications for faculty recruitment efforts and grant funding opportunities.   “To advance the research mission of the university and attract and retain outstanding faculty, we must support state-of-the-art facilities that assist the faculty with their groundbreaking work,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “I am pleased the institution has been able to help several faculty with critical needs, thanks to this initiative.”   In the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, an upgrade to an insectary that will be used to rear mosquitoes will enable Regents’ Professor and National Academy of Sciences member Michael Strand and several of his colleagues in the department of entomology to expand their research on infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. “We’re going to be able to do a whole series of experiments that we currently can’t do,” Strand said, adding that the upgraded facility opens up new opportunities for grants.   Upgrades to the Sensory Evaluation and Product Development Lab in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences will enable assistant professor Ginnefer Cox to develop and evaluate new food product formulations more efficiently while also giving students hands-on experiences and facilitating industry partnerships. “This new space is going to have equipment that helps train students to be the next product developers,” Cox said. “The upgrades also create more opportunities to collaborate in research with food companies, which opens up opportunities for students to interact with them and obtain internships and permanent employment.”   In the department of physics and astronomy, part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, renovation funds will aid in faculty recruitment by modernizing an outdated laboratory. “We’re really excited to have received this funding,” said department head Phillip Stancil. “The space has been unused for the last several years, and with this renovation it’ll be ready for a new experimentalist to move in.”   Other schools and colleges that have received funding through presidential renovation funds are the College of Engineering, College of Environment and Design, Odum School of Ecology, College of Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.   Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Libby V. Morris noted that the lab renovation funds come at a time when sponsored research awards have increased by 34 percent over the past five years. It also coincides with recruitment initiatives that will bring up to 25 new faculty members to campus.   “Research activity at the University of Georgia has grown significantly in recent years, with strategic investments in faculty and facilities enabling discoveries that point the way to a healthier and more promising future,” Morris said
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  • Forecasters say the rain that is expected to start falling this afternoon will usher in several days of wet weather for Athens and northeast Georgia, with the potential for serious flooding later in the week, most likely Wednesday night into Thursday.  Channel 2 Action News Meteorologist Brad Nitz says “I've revised the totals down slightly, but flooding remains a concern.” Athens could receive two to three inches of rain, while northwest Georgia is in line to receive between four and six inches. 

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS – Their average age is 40. Most of them played college football at places like Arkansas Tech and Texas Southern. Three of them didn’t play college ball at all. They are the 10 full-time coaches who will be assisting Georgia head coach Kirby Smart for what’s expected to be a championship run in the 2019 football season. It’s an interesting mix of youth and experience and it features a surprising lack of actual on-field, Division I playing experience. The makeup of the Bulldogs’ staff came more into focus after roles and salaries were revealed last Friday in response to open records requests from media outlets. Smart has yet to offer comment or answer questions about his new staff. Here’s some factoids to consider as we take a closer look at the group: Not that it matters, but two of Georgia’s three coordinators did not play college football themselves. Neither offensive coordinator James Coley nor co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann played ball beyond high school. Recently hired tight ends coach Todd Hartley also didn’t play college football. He was a student assistant coach while attending UGA as an undergrad. Only running backs coach Dell McGee played major college ball. He was a wide receiver and defensive back at Auburn from 1992-95 and played briefly in the NFL. New defensive backs coach Charlton Warren played as a defensive back at the Air Force Academy. The rest of the staff were small-college football players. Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning played linebacker at tiny William Jewell College, an NAIA program at the time. Heralded offensive line coach – and newly-appointed associate head coach — Sam Pittman also played NAIA ball. He was an All-American lineman at Pittsburg State in Kansas. Special teams coordinator Scott Fountain played at Samford, receivers coach Cortez Hankton played at Texas Southern and defensive line coach Tray Scott played at Arkansas Tech Georgia’s staff also is not extremely deep on experience. Pittman, 57, and Fountain, 52, have been around the longest. They’ve logged 32 and 31 years, respectively, in the college game. Many people don’t realize that Pittman was once a head coach. He spent two seasons as head coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, three overall. Today he is considered one of the most successful recruiters of offensive linemen in the country. When broken down into experience as actual on-field, college assistant coaches, the average length of service for members of Smart’s staff is a relatively low 11.5 years. The 28-year-old Schumann has the least, entering his fourth year as inside linebackers coach for the Bulldogs. He was a volunteer analyst as an undergraduate student at Alabama, then a graduate assistant and, finally, a director of player development and personnel for two years before following Smart to UGA. Hartley (7), Hankton (7), Lanning (6), McGee (6) and Scott (6) all have less than eight years experience as well. Most of Georgia’s coaches spent a good bit of time coaching high school ball before moving into the college ranks. Fountain and McGee were high school head coaches before breaking into college as analysts. Pittman was also a high school head coach. Coley and Lanning each were high school assistant coaches before getting their breaks as analysts, or quality control specialists. Smart lost a combined 56 years of college and pro coaching experience off his staff when coordinators Jim Chaney and Mel Tucker left to accept new jobs after last season. Tucker became head coach at Colorado while Chaney accepted a $650,000-a-year raise to make a lateral move to Tennessee. That resulted in Smart paying $375,000-a-year less for his assistant coaches. Chaney’s addition along with the hiring of Derrick Ansley as defensive coordinator and Tee Martin as wide receivers coach and some other staff moves mean that Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is now paying his staff $800,000 more than Georgia is ($6.045 million). That’s primarily due to coordinator pay. Chaney ($1.6 million), Ansley ($1 million) and Chris Rumph ($805,000) all have multiyear contracts and make $3.4 million annually between them. Georgia’s three coordinators are due $2.25 million in the next year. It’s not yet known if they signed multiyear deals, but three-year deals are standard operating procedure in the business. What’s it all mean? Not much at the moment. Smart’s doing just fine, thank you very much. He is a combined 10-3 against Georgia’s four primary conference rivals of Auburn (3-1), Florida (2-1), South Carolina (3-0) and Tennesssee (2-1). He is, of course, 0-2 vs. Alabama. The post Georgia Bulldogs’ 2019 football staff is short on experience, long on potential appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia Athletic Association board members will be briefed on the progress of efforts to add a new football-dedicated building to the Butts-Mehre Athletic Complex when it holds its annual winter meeting on Wednesday. In a conference call with members of the board’s facilities and development committee Monday morning, Athletic Director Greg McGarity confirmed that a status report will be provided on the latest multi-million dollar project to come on line since Kirby Smart became the Bulldogs’ head coach in 2016. McGarity said Georgia is in the process of selecting engineers and architects for the project, which is expected to be erect a building in the space between the Spec Town Track & Field grandstands and the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility. As DawgNation reported six months ago, such a facility is expected to carry a price tag of more than $50 million. Fundraising efforts are already underway. Since Smart’s arrival on campus in January of 2016, Georgia has built and dedicated a $30 million indoor practice facility and $65 million locker room and recruiting area underneath the West grandstand at Sanford Stadium. Since the fall of 2015, members of Georgia’s relatively new Magill Society have pledged donations totaling nearly $100 million to cover the cost of those projects. Board members will also be briefed on an upcoming project to improve the lighting at Sanford Stadium, McGarity said. The majority of the focus on facilities updates on Wednesday will be on construction of a new grandstand for the Henry Feild Stadium courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, McGarity said. Cost for that project is now expected to exceed $8 million. The board will also be briefed on plans to erect a new six-court indoor tennis facility for the complex. “That will be the only action item on Wednesday,” McGarity said. To date, none of the monies raised from the Magill Society have gone toward tennis. That is the sport Magill oversaw for decades before his death in 2014 at the age of 93. Board members will also be briefed on an ongoing $3.1 million equestrian project that will include a 7,000-square foot clubhouse at the team’s facility in Bishop. The post Expansion of Georgia Bulldogs’ football complex to be discussed at UGA athletics board meeting appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — As many as three outgoing Georgia football players have been projected as first-round NFL Draft picks by different analysts at different times. But there’s always one Bulldog on the first-round list — Deandre Baker. That didn’t change on Monday when the Georgia Thorpe Award winner surfaced as the No. 20 overall pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Mel Kiper’s latest first-round mock draft on the ESPN Insider pay site. RELATED: Georgia opens with 10 on NFL Draft boards Kiper has Baker as his second-highest rated cornerback in the draft behind LSU’s Greedy Williams, who he forecasts will go to Denver at No. 10. Earlier this month, NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter opened eyes when he projected both Baker and tailback Elijah Holyfield to be selected in the first round. Reuter, in a Feb. 5 three-round NFL mock draft, had four Bulldogs listed: Deandre Baker, No. 24 overall, Oakland Elijah Holyfield, No. 30 overall, Green Bay Riley Ridley, No. 35 overall, Oakland Isaac Nauta, No. 62 overall, New Orleans Ridley was at one point projected as high as the first round — at No. 32 — by NFL.com writer Daniel Jeremiah. WATCH: Riley Ridley coached up by NFL legends Jeremiah and fellow NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein recently penned an article on which one player each team should keep an eye on. The Baltimore Ravens were advised to keep an eye on speedy Georgia receiver Mecole Hardman, as “the buzz is starting to build in personnel circles.” The San Francisco 49ers, meanwhile, should watch for Ridley, according to the story: “The Niners need another big target at wide receiver with size and toughness for Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Ridley’s college production was just OK, but there were plenty of mouths to feed in the Georgia offense. Ridley might be a fit for San Francisco as a Day 2 option, provided he shows ball-tracking ability and some route acumen in Indianapolis.” Projections from one analyst to another vary, as they each do their own evaluations and rely on different NFL sources. Kiper, for example, doesn’t have Holyfield, Ridley or Nauta ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions in the upcoming draft. It’s all talk for now, and NFL Draft projections are sure to get a thorough shaking up after the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. The combine testing runs from March 1-4. Georgia will have eight players at the combine, seven taking part in on-field testing. Outside linebacker D’Andre Walker had sports hernia surgery on Jan. 16 in Birmingham, Ala., and is rehabilitating. Walker hopes to be healthy enough to take part in the Bulldogs Pro Day for NFL scouts on March 20.     The post Georgia football favorites Elijah Holyfield, Mecole Hardman generating NFL Draft buzz appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Nicolas Claxton’s All-SEC campaign continued Saturday night against No. 19 LSU, the sophomore leading Georgia in scoring and assists. The Bulldogs played the Tigers tight in a hard-fought 83-79 defeat before the sold-out Stegeman Coliseum crowd, and Claxton had everything to do with it. RELATED: Georgia battles LSU in bitter 83-79 defeat “We had no answer for Claxton,” said LSU coach Will Wade, whose team has won 14 of its past 15 games. “He played great.” Indeed, Georgia out-scored the Tigers by nine points when Claxton was on the floor. Problem was, the six minutes the 6-foot-11 forward didn’t play, LSU outscored the Bulldogs by 13. Wade credited Georgia coach Tom Crean with creating match-up problems throughout the game with personnel substitutions. LSU struggled to get a handle on how to defend Claxton. “When he’s hitting those mid-range turnarounds, it’s very tough to guard him,” Wade said. “We put Skylar (Mays) on him, one of our guards, and they posted him, and we put our big guys on him, and they took him on the perimeter and he was driving and he was spinning. “We just didn’t have very good coverage on him. They exploited the mismatch.” Claxton converted a conventional three-point play despite being triple-teamed with 5:30 left, pulling Georgia within 71-70. But Claxton couldn’t get his shot to fall with the game on the line in the final seconds. Claxton’s layup was uncharacteristically off-target after Crean called time out to set up the play with the Bulldogs down 82-79 and 29.5 seconds left. “I was supposed to drive and make the layup,” Claxton said. “So, we executed the play right, I just came up short on the layup.” Claxton is one of only four players in the Division I ranks who leads his team in all five major categories: points (12.8 per game), rebounds (9.0 per game), assists (53), blocks (64) and steals (31). Claxton, the SEC’s overall leader in rebounding and blocked shots, just wants to get back in the win column. “I would say it’s progress, us just playing our hardest for the whole 40 minutes, not coming out in the second half and being in a drought,” Claxton said. “At the end of the day, we did not want a moral victory. We wanted to come out and get the win.” Georgia dropped to 10-15 and 1-11 in SEC with the loss. The Bulldogs play host to Mississippi State at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Georgia basketball players LSU coach Will Wade Georgia basketball boxscore   The post WATCH: LSU won, but ‘had no answer’ for Georgia basketball star Nicolas Claxton appeared first on DawgNation.