Taiwan shows force in biggest live-fire drill since 2008

Updated 17 April 2013
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Taiwan shows force in biggest live-fire drill since 2008

PENGHU, Taiwan: Taiwan staged its biggest live-fire drill since 2008 on Wednesday, in an operation involving more than 7,000 troops that simulated a Chinese attack as its leader warned of Beijing’s arms buildup.
The operation, part of a five-day round-the-clock annual exercise codenamed “Han Kuang 29” (Han Glory 29), took place on the Penghu Islands in the middle of the 180-kilometer (110-mile) strait separating Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.
A cross-military-force involving the army, navy and air force were carrying out drills aimed at preparing a defense of the strategically important islands from a surprise Chinese attack.
Taiwanese officials said the operation involved a test of the Ray Ting 2000 or “Thunder 2000” multiple-launch rocket system designed to prevent the enemy from making an amphibious landing.
President Ma Ying-jeou, who initiated Taipei’s much-touted detente with Beijing, said the live-fire exercise was a reminder of the lingering threat from China.
“(In) the past few years, the Chinese communists have conducted a massive arms buildup in both quality and quantity following fast economic development. In the face of the threat, we have to make some preparations if we are to sustain peace in the Taiwan Strait,” Ma said.
Last month China announced a further double-digit rise in its defense budget, raising it by 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan ($116.3 billion) in 2013.
Chinese media reported that Beijing had agreed to buy two dozen Su-35 fighter jets and four Lada-class submarines from Russia, the country’s first large-scale weapons technology purchases from Moscow in a decade.
Wednesday’s maneuver kicked off at 6:00 a.m. (2200 GMT Tuesday) when waves of rockets were launched from mobile launchers carried on nine trucks as part of the military’s bids to deter the enemy’s simulated amphibious landing.
A total of 81 rockets were fired, which could wipe out targets in a zone the size of nearly 80 square kilometers, the military said.
Flanked by a fleet of F-16s, Indigenous Defense Fighters and F-5Es, the army forces also mobilized M60-A3 tanks, howitzers and mortars to fire on seaborne targets while the navy mobilized a Perry-class frigate and six missile boats.
Ma’s presence overseeing the drill sparked various political interpretations, with some saying the leader — who has come under fire in recent years for intentionally staying away from military exercises as part of his peace overture toward Beijing — was using the exercise to help boost low approval ratings.
Others said the move was to underline a tough stance toward Beijing as a new Chinese leadership pushes for further dialogue following previous talks that led to the opening of direct flights across the strait and the signing of a comprehensive trade agreement.
China still considers Taiwan part of its territory and has vowed to take it back even if it means war, and even though the island has governed itself since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.
But ties have improved markedly since Ma from the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links.
He was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and last four-year term.


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 17 August 2018
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.