Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a press conference. File photo
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday apologised for taking a family vacation in Hawaii as deadly bushfires raged across several states, destroying homes and claiming the lives of two volunteer firefighters.
Morrison cut short a vacation with his wife and adult children amid public anger at his absence from Australia at a time of national crisis. He arrived home Saturday and on Sunday morning spoke to reporters while visiting the headquarters of the Rural Fire Service in Sydney.
Australia battles catastrophic wildfires temperatures soar
Australian leader curtails holiday as firefighters killed in huge blazes
"If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight, we would have made different decisions," Morrison said. "I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids you try and keep it.”
He added: "But as prime minister, you have other responsibilities and I accept that and I accept the criticism."
Morrison said this was not a time for political point-scoring but a "time to be kind to each other." He said he is not a trained firefighter, "but I'm comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here just simply so I can be here, alongside them, as they are going through this terrible time.”
Morrison also answered critics who say his government has not done enough to fight climate change, which has been cited as a major factor in the spate of fires burning across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. He said there were also "many other factors" responsible for the unprecedented number of fires during a record-breaking heatwave.
"There is no argument ... about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world," he said. "But I'm sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event - it's not a credible suggestion to make that link."
Rural Fire Service Commission Shane Fizsimmons described Saturday as an "awful day" for firefighters as strong southerly winds fanned more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.
Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the northeast where flames were fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Yang Hengjun, a former Chinese diplomat turned online journalist and blogger, was last week formally arrested by Chinese authorities, seven months after he was detained in the country.
The leaders of Fiji and Australia agreed to boost bilateral ties on Monday as they sought to smooth relations following a highly publicised clash over climate change at a Pacific summit last month.
China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has over the past three years regularly flown its air force into the skies near the island, though not into Taiwan's territorial air space.
Representatives from various UN agencies in Ukraine are in Kherson to assess the impact of the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam and coordinate the humanitarian response.
The deadly accident took place on Wednesday evening in Sayad district due to reckless driving and the victims comprised 12 women, eight children and four men, the spokesman said, adding that only a woman survived but was badly injured,