Sexton returns for Ireland to face France

Fit again, Ireland five-eighth Johnny Sexton returns to the side for France’s visit as coach Joe Schmidt picked from a near full-strength squad in a bid to stay in contention for the Six Nations title.

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Sexton, who has suffered a spate of injuries recently from numerous concussions to shoulder, hamstring and neck problems, missed Ireland’s first two matches of the tournament with a calf injury, when he was ably replaced by Paddy Jackson.

Despite only playing two of Ireland’s last nine matches and just three times for his province Leinster since October – failing to play more than 60 minutes on each occasion – the 31-year-old’s experience will be vital on Saturday, Schmidt said.

“He was frustrated missing those first two and he’s excited by the opportunity, and he takes a fair bit of responsibility as well,” Schmidt told reporters. “He’s obviously a leader within the team, and his experience contributes some of that leadership,

The New Zealander made two other changes after the 63-10 rout of Italy last time out, both in the front row. Prop Jack McGrath starts ahead of Cian Healy, and captain Rory Best returns after missing out on a 52nd consecutive Six Nations match through a last-minute illness in Rome.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Simon Zebo, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Donnacha Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt.), Jack McGrath. Interchange: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble.

Teachers renew ‘I give a Gonski’ campaign

Teachers are going to step up pressure on the federal government as it finalises a new school funding deal with the states and territories.

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The Australian Education Union is using the success stories of 24 schools around the country to highlight the importance of increased funding to students in disadvantaged areas.

It will renew its “I give a Gonski” campaign, with new ads targeting what it says is a failure to support under-resourced schools.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham is in the final throes of negotiations on a new funding agreement, with the deal expected to be signed by leaders in April.

He wants the states to agree to a range of measures including higher standards for new teachers and tests for Year 1 students in exchange for commonwealth funding increases.

But the union has slammed the government’s refusal to proceed with the large increases in 2018 and 2019 that were part of the six-year Gonski deal.

“Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to implement a new funding system is in chaos,” union federal president Correna Haythorpe said on Friday.

“States and territories won’t back it and the Catholic school peak body has said there is not enough time to implement a new funding system before the end of this year.”

Every student at Cowandilla Primary School in Adelaide – one of the examples in the union’s 2017 Getting Results report – has improved since it received extra money for specialist numeracy and literacy programs.

But principal Julie Hayes says that could not have happened in a resource-free vacuum.

If the boost in money continues, her school could help its large numbers of disadvantaged students access computers and other technology they didn’t have at home.

“Principals at disadvantaged schools are always keen to make sure they’re able to level the playing field by providing these things at school cost,” she says.

“So, if we had significant money it would help support that – a new way of learning.”

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek says the debate around school funding neglects the tools teachers need.

Too often teachers are blamed for all the problems with schools and student achievement.

“We must end the teacher blame game, and actually focus on what matters for schools, teachers and kids,” she will tell AEU’s annual conference in Melbourne on Friday.

“We know funding matters. Other things matter, too, but we can’t deliver those things unless we properly fund our schools.”

Iraq forces enter IS-held Mosul airport

Backed by jets, helicopter gunships and drones, forces blitzed their way across open areas south of Mosul and entered the airport compound, apparently meeting limited resistance but strafing the area for suspected snipers.

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“Right now thank God we’re inside Mosul airport and in front of its terminal. Our troops are liberating it,” Hisham Abdul Kadhem, a commander in the interior ministry’s Rapid Response units, told AFP inside the airport.

Little was left standing inside the perimeter and what used to be the runway was littered with dirt and rubble.

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Most buildings were completely levelled but Iraqi forces celebrated the latest landmark in the four-month-old offensive to retake Mosul.

While Iraqi forces were not yet deployed in the northern part of the sprawling airport compound and sappers cautiously scanned the site for explosive devices, IS jihadists appeared to offer limited resistance.

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As Iraqi forces approached the airport moments earlier, attack helicopters fired rockets at an old sugar factory that stands next to the perimeter wall, sending a cloud of ash floating across the area.

As they moved past the factory, an explosive device detonated next to the convoy’s lead vehicle. It sent soldiers running back away from the blast but nobody was injured.

The push on the airport was launched at dawn and Iraqi forces stormed it within hours from the southwest.

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The regional command said elite forces from the Counter-Terrorism Service were simultaneously attacking the neighbouring Ghazlani military base, where some of them were stationed before IS seized Mosul in June 2014.

Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighbourhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank.

All of the city’s bridges across the river are damaged.

The US-led coalition has played a key role in supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground, and on Thursday US forces were seen on the front lines.

The American troops are not supposed to be doing the actual fighting but in recent weeks have got so close to the front that they have come under attack, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.

“They have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul,” Dorrian told reporters on Wednesday.

He declined to say if there had been any US casualties in the attacks, but an unnamed official later told CNN that several personnel had been evacuated from the battlefield.

The latest push to retake Mosul, the country’s second city and the last stronghold of the jihadists in Iraq, was launched on Sunday and involves thousands of security personnel.

They started closing in on the airport four days ago. It is unclear how many jihadists tried to defend the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul.

There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city’s west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.

It includes the Old City and its narrow streets, which will make for a difficult terrain when Iraqi forces reach it because they will be impassable for some military vehicles.

Letters from the east

The noose has for months now been tightening around Mosul and the living conditions for civilians are fast deteriorating.

Residents AFP has reached by phone spoke of dwindling food supplies forcing many families to survive on just one meal a day.

Medical workers say the weakest are beginning to die of the combined effect of malnutrition and the lack of medicines, which IS fighters have been keeping for themselves.

An army plane late Wednesday dropped thousands of letters written by residents of the retaken east bank to their fellow citizens across the river.

“Be patient and help each other… the end of injustice is near,” read one of them which was signed “People from the east side”.

“Stay in your homes and cooperate with the security forces. They are your brothers, they came to liberate you,” read another.

A smaller than expected proportion of the east side’s population fled when Iraqi forces stormed it nearly four months ago but the United Nations is bracing for a bigger exodus from the west.

It had said 250,000 people or more could flee their homes on the west bank and has scrambled to set up new displacement camps around the city.

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Muslim candidate says she’ll fight for the underdog

Toni Pikos-Sallie is contesting the seat of Southern River for the Greens in the West Australian election next month.

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She says she’s doing it to counter what she calls the politics of division, from parties and politicians such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Senator Jacqui Lambie.

“Honestly, last night I knew I had work in the morning, but I just sat there and I couldn’t go to sleep. I thought that I just have to and this is why I’m here. I have to have a voice. I have to say something.”

Toni Pikos-Sallie is talking to the Australian Greens campaign staff about a response she posted to her Facebook page.

It came after Senator Jacqui Lambie made this appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program, talking about sharia law and US President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from some Muslim countries.

“If he wants to put that and put some of that on hold for three months, then he has every right to do so until he can work out exactly what is going on. If that’s going to keep America safer just like it’s going to keep America safer… you know what? Stop playing the victim! Stop playing the victim. We’ve had enough.”

Toni Pikos-Sallie says Senator Lambie and the One Nation party are marginalising a minority for political gain.

The WA Greens candidate says she was encouraged when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister and spoke positively about a multicultural Australia.

But she says the political tone has changed.

“The time to speak up about this issue is now. I don’t think we can afford to wait any longer in silence while it festers and increases because of that absence of voice and representation so that’s why I’m here. Yes, I’m putting myself out there. Yes, there will be nasty people. Yes, they’re out there. But the alternative for me; I’m Australian, I grew up with these values, I stick up for the underdog, I stick up for people who don’t have a voice. It’s just not in me to sit there and say nothing and do nothing.”

Toni Pikos-Sallie was working as the Vice Principal of an Islamic school when she was approached by the Greens to be their candidate in Southern River.

The electorate includes several suburbs with large Muslim populations.

But she acknowledges she is very unlikely to win the Liberal-held lower house, with polls predicting a big swing to Labor.

She says she’s entered the political fray to make a statement, that Muslim Australians deserve to be treated as equal members of society.

“Australia should learn from its own history. Marginalising, isolating people, labelling them and grouping them up and making them feel outcast and on the periphery of society is highly detrimental. I don’t even think I need to say that to an intelligent person. It should be obvious.”

Several Perth Imams have also entered the political debate.

They’ve issued their own how-to-vote cards for attendees at mosques around Perth.

They’re encouraging people to vote for the Greens in the upper and lower houses.

They say a strong vote for the Greens will send a message to Labor that voters were not happy the party “flirted” with the idea of doing a preference deal with One Nation.

The WA head of the One Nation party Colin Tincknell told SBS, the Greens are confusing the party’s state and federal policies on immigration.

He says the state party has no position on immigration.

 

 

 

Clashes as French youths protest alleged police rape

Violence broke out at a central Paris square when the youths, some of them wearing hoods, tried to force police barricades.

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Some damaged cars and cash machines while others hurled cobblestones at police, who responded with tear gas.

Police made 11 arrests during the protest, one of a string held in Paris and around France since the February 2 incident involving a 22-year-old named only as Theo.

Upwards of 1,000 people shouting “Vengeance for Theo” took part in Thursday’s demonstration in the Place de la Nation, a common protest venue.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem appealed for calm, saying: “Young people’s emotion over the Theo affair is understandable, but we must let justice take its course.”

French firemen try to extinguish burning dustbins which obstruct the street, as students gather during a demonstration against police brutality.AAP

Violence is “unacceptable”, she told reporters.

City education authorities said 16 high schools were totally paralysed while a dozen others were partially blocked.

At many of them, entrances were blocked by rubbish bins, some of them set alight.

Theo, who was allegedly sodomised with a police truncheon after an identity check, required surgery after his violent arrest in the gritty suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, which was caught on video.

One officer has been charged with rape over the affair, and three others with assault. All four have been suspended from their duties.

An internal police investigation found insufficient evidence to support allegations that Theo was raped and said the injuries were not inflicted intentionally.

The criminal probe is, however, ongoing.

The case has revived long-simmering frustrations over policing in immigrant communities, where young men accuse the police of repeatedly targeting them in aggressive stop-and-search operations and using excessive force during arrests.

The police for their part complain of being drawn into a cat-and-mouse game with delinquents and drug dealers operating out of housing estates.

In 2005, the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding from police in an electricity substation sparked weeks of riots in France.

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Checkup Medical Column for Feb 24

A weekly round-up of news affecting your health.

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BRAIN STIMULATION A ‘POTENTIAL’ ANOREXIA TREATMENT

A small study of women with severe anorexia suggests brain stimulation may help treat people with the eating disorder.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found that implanting stimulation electrodes into the brains of patients could ease their anxiety and help them gain weight.

While the study only included 16 patients, it suggests that the intervention is safe and could help improve some symptoms of anorexia, but “more research” is needed.

The patients involved were aged 21 to 57 years old who had had anorexia for an average of 18 years. They were severely underweight with an average body mass index BMI of 13.8.

All underwent deep brain stimulation, which involves implanting electrodes and stimulating areas of the brain that control dysfunctional behaviours.

Out of the 16, mental health systems improved for 14.

Mood and anxiety symptoms reduced in five patients and depression reduced in 10 out of 14 patients. They also reported better quality of life.

Importantly, the average BMI of the group increased to 17.3 – an increase of 3.5 points – and six patients achieved a normal BMI of 18.5 or more.

“Anorexia remains the psychiatric disorder with the highest mortality rate, and there is an urgent need to develop safe, effective, evidence-driven treatments that are informed by a growing understanding of brain circuitry,” said study author, Professor Andres Lozano, University of Toronto, Canada.

“While our results show some early promise, more research will be needed before this becomes available for patients with anorexia,” Prof Lozano said.

GASTRIC BAND SURGERY HAS MAJOR BENEFITS: STUDY

An Australian study has found gastric band surgery has significant benefits for moderately overweight people with type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have focused on obese people.

The five-year study by Monash’s Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), found that gastric or Lap-band surgery improved the patients’ chances of diabetes remission, reduced the need for diabetes medication and dramatically enhanced their quality of life.

The study, led by clinician researcher Dr John Wentworth and weight loss surgeon Professor Paul O’Brien, compared 45 participants: 22 randomised to receive gastric banding combined with medical care, and 23 who received medical care alone.

Both groups received help with lifestyle factors such as exercise and healthy eating.

It found an average weight loss of 12.2 per cent of body weight in the gastric band group compared with 1.8 per cent in the medical care-only group.

Almost a quarter of the gastric band group showed diabetes remission at five years, compared to nine per cent of the medical care-only group.

“We had people who were feeling better, moving better and who were happier because of the surgery,” Dr Wentworth said.

“Their diabetes was better controlled and they needed fewer diabetic medications to control their blood sugar levels,” he said.

BRAINY TEENS MORE LIKELY TO USE CANNABIS

Brainy teens may be less likely to smoke, but more likely to drink and use cannabis, according to new research.

A study of more than 6000 students from 838 state, and 52 fee-paying, schools across England found during their early teens the “brainy” pupils were less likely to smoke cigarettes than their less academically gifted peers.

The research in online journal BMJ Open showed they were more likely to say they drank alcohol during this period too.

They were also more likely to say they used cannabis, but this wasn’t statistically significant.

Those of average academic ability were 25 per cent more likely to use cannabis occasionally and 53 per cent more likely to use it persistently than those who were not as academically gifted.

During their late teens, brainy pupils were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol regularly and persistently than those who were not as clever.

As for the use of cannabis, clever pupils were 50 per cent more likely to use this substance occasionally and nearly twice as likely to use persistently than those who weren’t as clever.

Similar patterns were seen for those of average academic ability.

Despite being only an observational study, the authors say that it does provide evidence “against” the theory that high academic ability is associated with “temporary” experimentation with substance use.

Top Philippine drug war critic arrested, but defiant

In comments to journalists moments before police detained her following an overnight vigil at her office, Senator Leila de Lima insisted she was innocent of the drug trafficking charges that could see her jailed for life.

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“It is my honour to be imprisoned for the things I am fighting for. Please pray for me,” De Lima told reporters outside her Senate office.

“As I have been saying all along, I am innocent. There is no truth to the charges I benefited from the drug trade, that I received money and that I coddled drug convicts.

“The truth will come out at the right time. They will not be able to silence me and stop me from fighting for the truth and justice and against the daily killings and repression by the Duterte regime.”

De Lima on Tuesday branded Duterte a “sociopathic serial killer” as she called for ordinary Filipinos to stand up in opposition to his drug war, which has seen more than 6,500 people killed since he took office eight months ago.

It was the peak of a decade-long campaign by De Lima, a former human rights commissioner and justice secretary, to expose Duterte as the leader of death squads during his time as mayor of southern Davao city and then as president.

Govt want nighttime arrest to avoid publicity. If they want to humiliate Leila in the dark, “we will fight them in the shade”. #OneForLeila

— Edwin Lacierda (@dawende) February 23, 2017

Duterte first raised allegations in August that De Lima had been running a drug trafficking ring with criminals inside the nation’s biggest prison when she was the justice secretary in the previous government.

“I will have to destroy her in public,” Duterte said then as he began a campaign to tarnish her reputation, including by making unsubstantiated allegations about her sex life.

“De Lima is not only screwing her driver, she is also screwing the nation.”

De Lima was last week charged with three counts of drug trafficking, and an arrest warrant was issued on Thursday afternoon — triggering a night of high drama as she initially avoided police by seeking refuge at the Senate.

She slept in her office overnight, then gave herself up to armed police in flak jackets.

‘People are afraid’

De Lima and her supporters insist that Duterte orchestrated the charges to crush her opposition as well as intimidate anyone else who may want to speak out against him or his drug war.

“People are afraid,” Father Robert Reyes, an activist priest who spent the night at the Senate with De Lima and other supporters, told AFP after her arrest.

“If the government can arrest a powerful person like her, what more the little man? That is the implied message of her arrest.”

Amnesty International said Thursday that it would regard De Lima as a prisoner of conscience.

“The arrest of De Lima is a blatant attempt by the Philippine government to silence criticism of President Duterte and divert attention away from serious human rights violations in the ‘war on drugs’,” it said.

But Duterte’s aides said De Lima’s arrest showed even the most powerful people would be brought to justice if they broke the law.

“The war on illegal drugs targets all who are involved and the arrest of an incumbent senator demonstrates the president’s strong resolve to fight pushers, peddlers and their protectors,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

Duterte, 71, won the presidential election last year after promising during the campaign to eradicate drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people.

He launched the crackdown immediately after taking office in June and police have reported killing 2,555 drug suspects since then, with about 4,000 other people murdered in unexplained circumstances.

Amnesty has warned that police actions in the drug war may amount to crimes against humanity.

Duterte has variously denied and acknowledged his role in death squads in Davao. As president he has repeatedly urged police to kill drug addicts as well as traffickers.

But Duterte’s aides insist he has never broken any laws. 

Charges over hotel demolition in Melbourne

Developers are facing huge potential fines for allegedly ignoring a heritage overlay and demolishing a 159-year-old pub in Melbourne.

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Stefce Kutlesovski, Raman Shaqiri and the company that owns the site of 159-year-old Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton face a total of 16 charges after it was torn down in October.

Victorian Building Authority and the City of Melbourne, two of the agencies investigating the illegal demolition, filed the charges on Friday in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

The site’s owner, a company of which Mr Kutlesovski and Shaqiri are both directors, has been fined more than $31,000 by Environmental Protection Authority Victoria.

“Charges include demolishing without a building permit, failing to comply with order to stop building work, (and) carrying out demolition work while unregistered,” the agencies said in a statement on Friday.

Maximum penalties for the charges range from $3,100 to $388,650.

Rubble containing asbestos was also found at a vacant lot in Cairnlea soon after the demolition.

Mr Kutlesovski faces six charges, including holding himself out as a demolisher when he was not registered and carrying out a demolition outside hours.

Mr Shaqiri and 160 Leicester Pty Ltd each face five charges.

The matter will be first heard in court on April 13.

WorkSafe, Heritage Victoria and CFMEU also opened investigations after the 19th-century building was demolished.

The City of Melbourne says its officers issued a stop work order on the Saturday, only for the razing to continue on the Sunday.

The only wall left standing at the Corkman site was this month made safe after a council building surveyor issued an emergency order after finding loose bricks and roof sheeting.

The state government has ordered the developers to rebuild the pub, but they are fighting that order in a tribunal.

Demons beat Blues by six points in AFLW

The round-one loss in atrocious conditions has become a powerful catalyst for Melbourne in the AFL women’s league.

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On Saturday they fought off a last-quarter comeback from Carlton to win by six points.

The 6.6 (42) to 5.6 (36) result on Saturday at Casey Fields was crucial, as it kept Melbourne within one game of top sides Adelaide and Brisbane.

The Blues dropped two games off the pace with three rounds left, meaning they now need other results to go their way if they are to make the grand final.

It was the Demons’ third-straight win since they last played at Casey Fields in round one, against the Lions.

Then, a nearby thunder storm briefly sent the players from the field and Melbourne lost by 15 points.

While the conditions were near-perfect this time, Melbourne had to weather Carlton’s late surge.

Trailing by 19 points at the last change, Carlton kicked three goals to level the scores.

But the Demons rebounded, finding Richelle Cranston on her own inside 50m.

She marked and kicked the goal, with Melbourne then holding on for three and a half minutes until the final siren.

“You can be a little bit disappointed, we let them back in the game, but they (Carlton) were fantastic with their pressure and intent,” said Melbourne coach Mick Stinear.

“I’m more pleased we absorbed that and were able to stick our nose in front right at the end.

“As disappointed as we were to drop the first one (against Brisbane), it’s actually kick-started our campaign.

“It has put us in a good position to keep pushing forward.”

Cranston’s goal was the second of two crucial moments in the match.

In the third term, Blues forward Bianca Jakobsson marked and was awarded a 50m penalty, giving her an easy shot at goal.

But she hit the post – one of three times for Carlton in the game – and Melbourne quickly moved the ball down the other end.

Deanna Berry also was awarded a 50m penalty and she did not miss, meaning a 12-point turnaround for the Demons.

Blues coach Damien Keeping said it would be wrong to blame the loss on moments, noting his team did not take their chances in the first half.

While Melbourne easily won the disposals 386-259, Carlton dominated the inside 50s 28-22.

And Keeping was rapt that his players fought back so hard in the final term.

“They were exceptional in that last quarter, played some really aggressive football and stood for something in the end,” he said.

The Blues were also missing star defender Brianna Davey due to a lower back injury, while Sarah Last is out for the rest of the inaugural season because of a knee reconstruction.

Demons captain Daisy Pearce was best on ground with a game-high 28 disposals

Senior Myanmar police jailed over Rakhine border raids

The attacks left nine officers dead and unleashed a four-month military crackdown as soldiers swooped in to help police hunt for Rohingya militants blamed for the raids.

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More than 70,000 of the Muslim minority have fled the area for neighbouring Bangladesh, bringing with them harrowing accounts of systematic rape, killings and torture at the hands of security officers.

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UN investigators who interviewed escapees said the violence was so severe it “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

On Saturday a police spokesman told AFP that three senior officers were handed between two and three years in jail for allowing the raids to happen under their watch. 

“Police were informed by villagers in advance before the attack. But police commanders failed to take action and rejected the information, assuming it was impossible,” said Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe. 

The International Crisis Group think-tank described the October raids as the start of a new Rohingya insurgency in a region rife with tension between the stateless group and Myanmar’s Buddhist population. 

The group said the attackers were recruited by a Saudi-backed network focused on advancing the political rights of the Rohingya, who have suffered under years of discrimination from a government that denies them citizenship.

After months of waving off allegations that soldiers were carrying out grave rights abuses in the recent crackdown, Myanmar’s government has recently pledged to investigate the claims. 

Yet there has been little fallout for security forces so far.

Five police officers were sentenced to two months detention by an internal police tribunal over a video showing them abusing Rohingya civilians, according to police spokesman Myo Thu Soe.

Three senior police including a major were also demoted and their service terms were reduced for failing to enforce discipline.