Teens escaping the mafia through therapy

He faced jail for smuggling Kalashnikovs, but the teenage heir to a powerful mafia clan in Italy was instead removed from his family and given a chance to break free of the criminal underworld.

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Help came from psychologist Enrico Interdonato, 33, who volunteers with a project that tries to free youngsters from the notoriously ruthless ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria by placing them in care in secret locations across Italy.

The program called “Liberi di Scegliere” (Freedom to Choose), aims to show teens they can forge a life outside the criminal underworld without feeling they have betrayed those they love.

“They’re raised as princes destined to inherit a dynasty, the embodiment of their town’s criminal history,” Interdonato told AFP.

“Their fathers are almost always in prison or dead, their cousins or brothers are in jail. In the closed societies of small Calabrian towns everyone knows them and they feel it’s their duty to live up to the family name,” he said.

“At risk” minors are removed from their families by the juvenile court in the southern city of Reggio Calabria and given a chance to finish their education. Those who want it also get help finding work once they turn 18.

The first challenge Interdonato faces is convincing the youngsters not to see it as a punishment but an opportunity to find themselves in a place where their family names  renowned at home  hold no power over them.

They also have to be convinced of the ills of a lifestyle which seduces many in a region with crippling unemployment.

“Being heir to a mafia clan means obligations but it also means privileges, having access to significant economic and social power,” he said.

‘Traumatised’ 

They may wear designer clothes and command the fear or respect of locals, but “they are still the same as other teenagers in one respect: the changes in their bodies and brains are still underway”.

Though each case is different, all at first are “emotionally rigid” and traumatised after having seen relatives killed or taken away in the middle of the night in police raids.

Once a relationship is forged, Interdonato takes them along to meetings organised by the Addiopizzo association, a grassroots movement of victims of mafia extortion who have joined forces to denounce their tormentors.

“Just as police infiltrate the mafia, we infiltrate the anti-mafia!” he quips.

“These are people traditionally considered the enemy of the mafia, so the kids get a chance to see the human face of their ‘enemy’, and see what their world does to them.”

The encounters can be “very emotional”, he says. “In one case a victim living under police escort ended up befriending one of the lads and offered him a job.”

Interdonato, who sees the minors once or twice a week, says the aim is not to get the youngsters to turn on their families though the mothers of some children sent away do just that, becoming police informants.

“No one wants the blood ties to be cut or for youngsters to hate their fathers. We say: ‘You must love your father, but you must choose your future for yourself.'”

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NSW keep open mind on future Origin camps

This may not be the final NSW Origin camp outside Sydney.

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New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) chief executive Dave Trodden has declared all options for the future of NSW State of Origin camps are on the table next year, including a return to Kingscliff.

It was believed the expected completion of a centre of excellence in Homebush this year would spell the end of the traditional 10-day Origin preparation away from Sydney.

However, Trodden admitted the Blues could be on the road again with construction on their new $20 million base, adjacent to ANZ Stadium, behind schedule.

Options for 2018 include the possibility of returning to their current camp in Kingscliff, where they moved this year after spending recent campaigns in Coffs Harbour.

It was initially expected NSWRL would move into its new home, complete with playing field, gymnasium, administration block and hydrotherapy room, by the end of 2017.

That timeline has seemingly been pushed back another 12 months.

A decision isn’t expected to be made about NSW’s plans for 2018 until later this year.

“Our plans for next year aren’t crystallised depending on a number of different things, one is the completion of our centre of excellence at Sydney Olympic Park,” Trodden told AAP.

“We’ll have a discussion about the different approaches we take to different locations, where we’re going to play next year.

“All those things will happen over the course of the next few months.”

Trodden opted not to comment on whether the Blues would return to The Star casino, which attracted some criticism from star Andrew Fifita after their game two build-up.

Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will each host an Origin game in 2018, with game two slated to be played on a stand-alone weekend with a shorter build-up.

Brit pack progress makes no difference to Murray focus

Murray is happy to have some company for a change but believes their progression has made little difference to his own performance as he prepares to face Italy’s Fabio Fognini in a third round encounter on Friday.

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“It’s a good thing when there are more Brits around,” Murray is quoted as saying by The Times.

“That’s a really positive thing, but it doesn’t change how I go into the matches. I’m used to having played deep into the second weeks at slams and there not being any Brits there.

“Whether I’ll feel differently in the middle of the second week and there are a few Brits left, and it’s maybe a little bit calmer, that’s possible. I’ve never been in that position before.”

This is the first time Bedene and Konta have reached the third round but Watson will be hoping for better luck after losing to Agnieszka Radwanska in 2012 and Serena Williams in 2015 on her previous attempts to reach the fourth round.

In-form Watson faces former world number one Victoria Azarenka and the Belarusian expects a tough test from her 25-year-old opponent, who reached the semi-finals at the Aegon International last week.

“I think she’s a great player,” Azarenka, who is playing in just her second event since giving birth to her first child in December, said.

“She definitely is going to be a crowd favourite. She played really well last week in Eastbourne. It looks like she feels really comfortable coming into this match.”

All four Brits will play on Friday with sixth-seeded Konta facing Greece’s Maria Sakkari and Bedene set to play 16th-seed Gilles Muller.

(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru)

Tillerson to visit Kuwait on Qatar crisis

The US Secretary of State will travel to Kuwait in a bid to resolve the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and four Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, his department says.

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Rex Tillerson will meet on July 10 with senior Kuwaiti officials who have been trying to mediate between the Gulf countries embroiled in the dispute.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain announced on Wednesday they would not resume diplomatic ties or lift the trade ban against Qatar, whom they accuse of having links to terror groups.

The four countries justified their stance by citing Qatar’s refusal of their demands to resume relations.

Those demands included shutting down the Al-Jazeera news channel, scaling down diplomatic relations with Iran and closing a Turkish military base in the emirate.

They said Doha’s refusal of their demands is proof of its links to terror groups and that they will enact new measures against it.

The Qatari government sabotaged diplomatic efforts to solve the rift, the four states said, and its refusal affirmed its continuing sabotage of the region’s stability and security.

The measures taken by the four states were aimed at the Qatari government but not its people, they said.

Tillerson has been in contact with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar, where the US has its largest military base in the region, and other regional players over the last month.

He has urged the five countries to resolve their dispute, warning that it hampers operations against the Islamic State terror group.

In late June, the State Department questioned whether the boycott of Qatar was about its alleged links to terrorism or “long-simmering grievances” among the Gulf countries.

Tillerson is currently accompanying US President Donald Trump, who has sided with the Saudi-led bloc and blamed Qatar for the crisis, in Hamburg, Germany to attend the G20 summit that begins on Friday.

After the summit, the US Secretary of State will travel to Kiev and then to Istanbul before his trip to Kuwait.

NRL cap saga won’t affect Manly players

High-flying Manly’s mid-season NRL form won’t be derailed by the club’s alleged salary cap scandal, insists coach Trent Barrett.

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Barrett fronted the media on Friday morning and faced a deluge of questions surrounding the latest saga, with the NRL confirming this week they would investigate the club after reports of an alleged breach.

However, Barrett said he has done his best to shield the players from the reports, ahead of Saturday night’s clash with Penrith at Pepper Stadium.

“The players are really good with it,” Barrett said.

“They know what their job is. They can’t control it, I can’t control it.

“The best thing I can do is shield them from it and focus them on what we’ve got to do tomorrow night.”

The Sea Eagles have become well accustomed to off-field scandals dominating headlines.

And in turn, they have thrived off their famous siege mentality.

Most recently, they forced to endure allegations of match-fixing last season, which were only reportedly cleared this week.

And Barrett said the players had openly joked about the latest salary cap allegations across the league, where Manly have been the only club named, before continuing with preparations for Saturday’s match.

“The players had a bit of a chuckle. They wanted to know who was getting (the money),” Barrett said.

“We’ve been through similar things last year and the group handled it well and nothing came of that either.

“It seems funny that everyone turns up here all the time.”

Saturday’s match poses a significant point in the Sea Eagles’ season.

A win will likely take them into the top two for the first time since 2014, while a loss could potentially drop them out of the top-four heading into the final third of the season.

Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans will be desperate to continue his career-best form, after being overlooked by Queensland’s State of Origin selectors.

Manly will be without Jake Trbojevic through Origin duty, while injuries to Curtis Sironen and Lewis Brown have left a hole on their right edge.

Meanwhile, Penrith coach Anthony Griffin said his side are on high alert for a fired up Sea Eagles, having endured a similar drama as coach of Brisbane in 2014.

“Normally when something like that happens it steels you,” Griffin said.

“I was at a similar situation at Brisbane once when there were rumours and innuendo against us.

“I would rather it didn’t happen to be honest.”

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Penrith have won their past four matches against Manly.

* Manly have not scored more than 12 points in their past four matches at Pepper Stadium.

* Manly are ranked second for average points this year and make the least errors per game.