Tourists leave as Bali’s volcano-hit airport gets back to business

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Passengers gather at the Gusti Ngurah Rai International airport in Denpasar, Bali on November 27. A change in wind direction blew towering columns of ash and smoke away from the airport prompted authorities to re-open the island’s main international gateway on Wednesday afternoon. (AFP)
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Above, lava inside the crater of Mount Agung volcano reflects off ash and clouds while it erupts. President Joko Widodo on Wednesday urged people to leave the exclusion zone before it was too late. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2017
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Tourists leave as Bali’s volcano-hit airport gets back to business

DENPASAR, Indonesia: Thousands of foreign tourists were leaving Bali by plane Thursday after an airport shutdown sparked by a rumbling volcano, but some visitors were irate at not being able to get off the Indonesian island paradise sooner.
The alert level on Mount Agung remains at maximum. But a change in wind direction blew towering columns of ash and smoke away from the airport, prompting authorities to re-open the island’s main international gateway Wednesday afternoon.
That opened an eagerly awaited window for some of the 120,000 tourists stranded after the surge in volcanic activity grounded hundreds of flights, sparking travel chaos and forcing the evacuation of villagers living in the mountain’s shadow.
Ash is dangerous for planes as it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.
“Things are gradually getting back to normal,” said Bali airport spokesman Israwadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
But that wasn’t much comfort to some visitors who came to relax in one of the world’s top travel destinations but have instead faced repeated flight cancelations, battles over insurance and torrential rain that has lashed the island.
“I have been stranded since Monday night,” said Australian Donna Lay.
“We have travel insurance, but mine doesn’t cover volcano so I’m just living off my money. I’m covered for health (insurance) but not for accommodation.”
Indonesian visitor Yayan was running out of patience.
“I have been waiting since November 27 (Monday),” said the man, whose flight has been canceled multiple times.
“I got no email or notification from the airline...They should have told me. I am at loss because I have to postpone my business — I have jobs that I need to handle.”
More than 4,500 people have now flown out of Bali’s main airport, authorities said, with around 3,200 of them on international flights.
However, the airport on nearby Lombok island — also a popular tourist destination — closed again Thursday after ash and smoke drifted in its direction.
The shifting wind was being caused by cyclone Cempaka which is battering Indonesia’s main Java island — west of Bali — and has left at least 19 people dead in severe flooding and landslides.
Millions of tourists visit palm-fringed Bali annually. The majority are Chinese, followed by Australians, Indians, Britons and Japanese, according to the immigration office, which added that nearly 25,000 foreigners live on the small Hindu-majority island.
Tens of thousands of Balinese have already fled their homes around the volcano — which last erupted in 1963, killing around 1,600 people.
As many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave in case of a full eruption, disaster agency officials have said.
While some have refused to leave a 10-kilometer radius danger zone, tens of thousands have filled up evacuation centers, some with respiratory problems linked to the volcanic ash.
“In an evacuation center there are a lot of people so there are problems such as poor sanitation and diseases can be easily contagious,” said Dwi Putra Sudewa, a doctor volunteering at one center.
“One gets a cough and others can get it too.”
While the volcano appeared to be belching less ash and smoke on Thursday, experts warned a major eruption could still happen at any moment. Agung has already experienced a series of mini eruptions.
“The potential for an eruption is still there, but we cannot predict how big it’s going to be,” said Devy Kamil from the Indonesian volcanology agency.
Agung rumbled back to life in September, forcing the evacuation of 140,000 people living nearby. Its activity decreased in late October and many returned to their homes.
However, on Saturday the mountain sent smoke into the air for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption — caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.
So-called cold lava flows have also appeared — similar to mud flows and often a prelude to the blazing orange lava of popular imagination.
Indonesia, the world’s most active volcanic region, lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.
Last year seven people were killed after Mount Sinabung on the western island of Sumatra erupted. A 2014 eruption at Sinabung killed 16.


French yellow vests protest in Paris amid tighter security

Updated 21 min 56 sec ago
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French yellow vests protest in Paris amid tighter security

  • The Champs-Elysees was almost empty Saturday except for a huge police presence
  • Paris police detained 51 people by early afternoon, issued 29 fines and conducted 4,688 “preventive checks” on protesters entering the capital

PARIS: Thousands of French yellow vest demonstrators were marching through Paris on Saturday as authorities enforced bans on protests in certain areas and displayed enhanced security measures to avoid a repeat of last week’s riots in the capital.
The crowd gathered peacefully Saturday at Denfert-Rochereau Square in southern Paris and then headed north. The protesters are expected to finish Saturday’s march in the tourist-heavy neighborhood of Montmartre around its signature monument, the hilltop Sacre-Coeur Cathedral.
French authorities have banned protests from the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris and the central neighborhoods of several other cities including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Rouen in western France.
The Champs-Elysees was almost empty Saturday except for a huge police presence. Scores of shops were looted and ransacked last weekend, and some were set on fire by protesters. Fear of more violence certainly kept tourists away, and police shut down the Champs-Elysees subway stations as a precaution.
Paris police detained 51 people by early afternoon, issued 29 fines and conducted 4,688 “preventive checks” on protesters entering the capital.
In Nice, police dispersed a few hundred protesters who gathered on a central plaza. The city was placed under high security measures as Chinese President Xi Jinping was expected to stay overnight on Sunday as part of his state visit to France.
The new Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, who took charge following the destruction wrought by last week’s protests, said specific police units have been created to react faster to any violence.
About 6,000 police officers were deployed in the capital on Saturday and two drones were helping to monitor the demonstrations. French authorities also deployed soldiers to protect sensitive sites, allowing police forces to focus on maintaining order during the protests.
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday dismissed criticism from opposition leaders regarding the involvement of the military, saying they are not taking over police duties.
“Those trying to scare people, or to scare themselves, are wrong,” he said in Brussels.
Christelle Camus, a yellow vest protester from a southern suburb of Paris, called using French soldiers to help ensure security “a great nonsense.”
“Since when do soldiers face a population? We are here in France. You would say that we are here in (North) Korea or in China. I never saw something like this,” she said.
Last week’s surge in violence came as support for the 4-month-old anti-government yellow vest movement has been dwindling, mostly as a reaction to the riots by some protesters.
The protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes but have expanded into a broader rejection of Macron’s economic policies, which protesters say favor businesses and the wealthy over ordinary French workers. Macron countered by dropping the fuel tax hike and holding months of discussions with the public on France’s stagnant wages, high taxes and high unemployment.
The yellow vest movement was named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists must carry in their vehicles for emergencies.