Australia: The Australian and Queensland governments have issued an open call to the world's top scientific minds to help save the Great Barrier Reef. The governments have launched a A$2 million challenge to find novel ways to restore reefs and lift coral abundance. "This is an open invitation to our greatest scientific minds, industry and business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions which will protect corals and encourage the recovery of damaged reefs," Federal Environment MinisterJosh Frydenberg said. "The Reef is the planet's greatest living wonder. The scale of the problem is big and big thinking is needed, but it's important to remember that solutions can come from anywhere." The Great Barrier Reef is still reeling from back-to-back coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, while authorities are also dealing with a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak in southern parts of the reef.

Chile: Pope Francis has landed in Chile, where protests are expected over his decision to appoint a bishop who was close to the Andean nation's most notorious pedophile priest. Francis' arrival marks his first visit to Chile since becoming pope in 2013. Over the next three days, Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass in Santiago, the southern city of Temuco and the northern city of Iquique. On Friday, the Pope will go to Peru. Francis' trip is aimed at highlighting the plight of immigrants and underscoring the need to preserve the Amazon rain forest. However, sexual abuse by priests has taken front and centre.

Belgium: An explosion has injured several people and brought down a residential building in the Belgian city of Antwerp, but police say the incident was not related to terrorism. Belgian news agency Belga reports five people were injured. Antwerp police said two adjacent buldings might have also been damaged in what state broadcaster RTBF said was a gas explosion.

Britain: A US Army dog that attacked a machine-gun nest during World War II was posthumously awarded Britain's highest honour for animal bravery. Chips, a German shepherd-husky cross, was awarded the Dickin Medal for actions during a 1943 beach landing in Sicily. According to the US soldiers, Chips raced into an Italian machine-gun nest, attacking an enemy soldier by the throat and pulling the gun from its mount. The medal was awarded by veterinary charity PDSA in a ceremony at the Churchill War Rooms in London. The honour was accepted by 76-year-old John Wren of Southold, New York, whose father donated Chips to the war effort in 1942. Chips suffered scalp wounds and powder burns in the battle but survived the war, returning to his owners in Pleasantville, New York. Since 1943, the Dickin Medal has recognised gallantry by animals serving with the military, police or rescue services. Recipients include 33 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses and a cat.

A PDSA board shows a photograph of US hero dog Chips. Photo / AP
A PDSA board shows a photograph of US hero dog Chips. Photo / AP

Venezuela: Special forces captured five members of a band led by a rebellious police officer who has been on the run since stealing a helicopter and launching grenades at government buildings in the capital last year, officials said. It wasn't clear if the renegade officer, Oscar Perez, himself had been killed or captured in a deadly gunbattle after more than six months on the lam. Two officers were killed and five seriously wounded during a shootout with Perez and his comrades, the Ministry of Interior Relations said.

Italy: An Italian political candidate has sparked outrage by saying the country cannot accept more immigrants if "our white race" is to continue. Political opponents have condemned the comments by Attilio Fontana, who is running in the northern Lombardy region with backing from a centre-right alliance. Jewish leaders claimed it recalled anti-Semitic racial laws enacted during Benito Mussolini's dictatorship. Fontana told Radio Padania that being unwilling to "accept all" immigrants isn't "xenophobic or racist," but logical. He said Italy needs to decide "if our white race, our society, must continue to exist or be cancelled out." Fontana later said it had been a "lapse".

France: French investigators have dropped an investigation of alleged child sexual abuse by French soldiers in Central African Republic. A judicial official said today that investigating judges made the decision last week. The official would not give their reasons. French news reports say the investigators concluded they didn't have enough evidence to bring charges. About 15 children told United Nations investigators they were sexually abused by French troops in Bangui in 2014.

Flames engulf a boat in the Tampa Bay area. The boat was ferrying patrons to a casino ship off the Florida Gulf Coast. Photo / AP
Flames engulf a boat in the Tampa Bay area. The boat was ferrying patrons to a casino ship off the Florida Gulf Coast. Photo / AP

United States: A casino company said it never had a problem with the shuttle boat that burst into flames off Florida's Gulf Coast, leading to the death of a female passenger. Tropical Breeze Casino spokeswoman Beth Fifer said the company does not know what caused yesterday's huge blaze, which gutted the 12-year-old shuttle boat and forced about 50 passengers to jump into chilly waters off Port Richey. Pasco County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll said the victim was 42. Her name has not been released and a cause of death has not been determined.

Australia: Oil or petrol has spilled into Melbourne's Yarra River, with authorities issuing a chemical hazard alert for some inner city suburbs. The spill was spotted near Victoria Bridge between Richmond and Hawthorn today, a Metropolitan Fire Brigade spokeswoman says. The hazardous incident team are at the scene trying to contain the spill and determine the exact source, while the public is being urged to avoid using the river in suburbs Abbotsford, Burnley, Hawthorn, Kew and Richmond.

United States: An Army veteran who says someone left a scalpel inside him after surgery in 2013 is suing a veterans affairs hospital. Bridgeport resident Glenford Turner says the scalpel was only discovered years later, after he suffered from long-term abdominal pain. He sued the VA in US District Court last week, seeking unspecified compensatory damages.

- agencies