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Snowden’s father in ’emotional’ reunion

The father of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has held an “emotional” meeting with his son for the first time since the fugitive took refuge in Russia to escape US justice, a report says.

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Lon Snowden met his son after arriving in Moscow from the United States on Thursday, Interfax quoted an informed source as saying, without specifying the time or place of the meeting.

“The meeting has already taken place. It was very emotional,” the source told the agency on Friday, saying further details would not be given for security reasons.

Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena was not immediately available for comment.

Russia has granted Edward Snowden one year temporary asylum but the United States wants him to be extradited to face charges over his leaking of sensational details of US surveillance programs at home and abroad.

The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor spent over a month in transit at a Moscow airport before being granted asylum on August 1. Since then his whereabouts have been a mystery.

Earlier this week, a group of four retired US ex-intelligence workers who now seek to promote ethics within the profession handed Snowden an award in Moscow.

The Government Accountability Project said Snowden received the Sam Adams Award – a “symbolic candlestick” – at a ceremony in Moscow late on Wednesday.

Lon Snowden had told Russian state television in an interview shortly after arriving in Russia Thursday that he wanted to make sure his son was healthy in the meeting and discuss his future options.

He said he did not expect Edward Snowden to return to the United States and also warmly thanked the Russian authorities for giving sanctuary to his son.

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Challenge will protect national laws – PM

State and territory governments have no right to legislate in favour of same-sex marriage in defiance of commonwealth law and the constitution, the federal government says.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the stand on Friday, a day after Attorney-General George Brandis warned the validity of a proposed ACT law allowing same-sex marriages would be challenged in the High Court.

Senator Brandis also personally asked ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher not to allow same-sex marriages to proceed if the bill was passed during the late October sitting of the ACT Legislative Assembly.

But the ACT says it won’t be bullied by the federal government and will push ahead with the bill, which could see the territory hosting same-sex marriage ceremonies by December.

Asked what message the High Court challenge would send to gay and lesbian couples wanting to get married, Mr Abbott said: “We want to uphold the constitution.”

“We think it is important that there be a uniform approach to marriage around the commonwealth, and that’s what we are going to do our best to ensure,” he told reporters in Darwin.

“It’s important to ensure that the constitution is adhered to.”

Federal parliament last year rejected a Labor private member’s bill aimed at altering the definition of marriage, as being between a man and a woman, to allow same-sex marriage.

Mr Abbott said while future federal parliaments may revisit the issue, the bill was defeated by a “fairly decisive margin”.

“The point is that it’s the commonwealth parliament which is responsible for making laws with respect to marriage, not the state parliaments, and not the territory legislatures,” he said.

Labor federal leadership candidate Bill Shorten said he supported the principle of states and territories having the right to make their own laws.

“It’s a matter of record that I voted for same-sex marriage when the matter came before the federal parliament, but I don’t think this issue is just about that,” he told ABC Television.

“You’ve also got some pretty important constitutional issues.”

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said the looming High Court challenge was a front for the coalition government’s opposition to marriage equality and reform.

“If they were genuinely interested in taking away any question of whether the commonwealth should only have the power to legislate with regard to marriage, then we would simply be passing the legislation in the federal parliament,” Senator Milne said.

Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) said the federal government’s reasoning wasn’t clear.

“To say it is about the constitution is not a clear enough answer,” AME chair Alex Greenwich said.

“Constitutional experts, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute and the NSW parliamentary inquiry all found that it is constitutionally possible for a state to legislate for same sex marriage.”

The ACT argues that because the commonwealth marriage act applies to unions between men and women, it’s within its right to legislate beyond that to same-sex couples.

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Sam Burgess raring to go for England

Sam Burgess is looking forward to making up for lost time with England as he steps up his preparations for the World Cup.

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The former Bradford forward, who is currently training with England at a high-altitude camp in South Africa, has missed the last two international tournaments through injury but is fit and raring to go ahead of the opening game against Australia on October 26.

“It’s always a great honour to play for this country,” said the South Sydney prop, who won the last of his 11 caps against Papua New Guinea in the 2010 Four Nations Series.

“It’s been two or three years now, so I’m looking forward to getting back into it.

“We’ve been in South Africa for a week now and the boys are coming together nicely. We’ve had good weather and the experience has been fantastic so far.

“You can see the RFL have really got behind the team with their investment in this and things like sports science and it’s giving us the best chance to go and do the job on the weekend.”

Burgess, who was this week voted the Rabbitohs’ player of the year by his teammates, has been part of the international scene for seven years, the last four of which have been spent in the NRL.

England coach Steve McNamara, who gave Burgess his Super League debut at Bradford, is delighted to have him available for the World Cup and believes his best is yet to come.

“Sam has always been a good professional and his game has improved,” McNamara said. “That week-in, week-out intensity is what he needed to test him.

“But you forget that Sam is only 24 and there is a lot more improvement in him. We’ve missed him over the last two years but he’s certainly made a big contribution to this camp.”

Burgess is in familiar company in Potchefstroom, having been joined in the 24-strong England camp by 21-year-old twin brothers George and Tom.

George had been expected to get the call after a huge season in which he won the NRL rookie-of-the-year award and Sam reckons Tom also deserves his spot after making a big impression in his debut season.

“The twins have worked very hard to get into this position,” he said. “To represent your country with your little brothers is going to be fantastic. I’ve probably not thought about until the last couple of weeks when everything came out.

Of course, much was made of the non-selection of the oldest of the Burgess brothers, Luke, who was a non-playing member of the England squad last year.

“It’s disappointing for Luke,” Sam said. “He came through his injury and played the back half of the year and played very well.

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Stosur outlasts Doi to make Japan semi

Samantha Stosur has made her second semi-final of the year, overcoming a determined fightback by Japan’s Misaki Doi for a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win at the Japan Open on Friday.

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The third-seeded Stosur, aiming for her fifth career WTA title, will face highly touted American teenager Madison Keys, who advanced to her first WTA semi-final with a 6-3 6-1 win over China’s Zheng Jie.

The other semi-final on Saturday at the Utsubo Tennis Center will see Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard, the No.5 seed, take on unseeded Kurumi Nara of Japan after both women won in three sets.

Bouchard got off to a slow start before posting a 2-6 6-4 6-1 victory over Czech qualifier Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, while Nara assured the host nation a presence in the last four by scraping out a 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-1 win over Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.

The 29-year-old Stosur, who had beaten Doi in Osaka in 2011 in their only previous meeting, looked like she would run away with the rematch when she zipped to a 5-0 lead before taking the first set.

But the unseeded Doi stiffened her resistance, earning a service break in the eighth game of the second set before levelling the match.

In the third set, Stosur took a 4-2 lead with a service break, only to see Doi break back. In the next game, a double fault by Doi set up a break point which Stosur converted, before holding serve to win in 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Stosur, who has had muted success since winning the 2011 US Open, had been 0-4 in quarterfinals this year until she broke through in Carlsbad in July, where she went on to win a fourth career title.

Bouchard, currently ranked 35th after starting the year at No.145, will be looking for her first win in three semifinal appearances this year.

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Maria de Villota found dead in hotel

Former Formula 1 reserve driver Maria de Villota, 33, was found dead in a hotel room in Seville on Friday morning, a police spokeswoman confirmed.

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“The body of this person has been found in a hotel in Seville, there are no signs of violence but we need to wait for the autopsy,” she said.

De Villota, daughter of former Formula 1 driver Emilio De Villota, was the first Spanish female to enter the sport when she joined the Marussia team in 2012 as a test driver.

However, just four months later De Villota suffered severe injuries, including the loss of her right eye in a crash while testing at Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire.

“Maria has left us. She had to go to heaven like all the angels. I give thanks to God for the extra year and a half he left her with us,” read a message from her family posted on De Villota’s Facebook page.

“It is with great sadness that we learned a short time ago of the news that Maria de Villota has passed away,” the Marussia team said in a statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Maria’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”

The news has shocked the world of motorsport with tributes to a female pioneer in the sport pouring in.

De Villota had hoped to become just the third woman in history to take part in a Formula One race and Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who became the first female team principal in the sport in 2012, hopes she has left a legacy for future female drivers to follow.

“If anybody represented strength and optimism, it was Mara,” she said.

“Her sudden death is a big loss to the motorsport world as she was an important ambassador for relaying important messages to the youth, and particularly girls that aspire to a career in motorsport. Mara was an example of someone who never gave up, she always had a smile on her face and we will dearly miss her.”

“She gave young girls strength. Undergoing what she did and to still come out there and still be so convinced.

“Even if she maybe couldn’t drive in Formula One the way she dreamt (after the crash), she didn’t give up her passion. Hopefully she has made a difference. Now it’s up to us to transfer that message further.”

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso said he was in shock after finding out the news ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka this weekend.

“It’s hard to talk about Maria de Villota right now, as I had only just taken my helmet off, when I was told about her death and at the moment, I still can’t believe it and need a while to stop and think about it,” he said.

“Of course, it’s very sad news for the world of motorsport as Maria was loved by everyone. Now, all we can do is pray for her and for her family.”

President of the Spanish Automobile Federation, Carlos Gracia also added his condolences.

“I have just found out. It is a very hard to take. There is no explanation for what has happened,” he told Spanish National Radio.

“She was a great person and an example for everyone.”