Major cyclone kills three in India, Bangladesh

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A woman carries pitchers next to uprooted trees and a fallen signboard following Cyclone Fani in Khordha district in the eastern state of Odisha, India, May 3, 2019. (Reuters)
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People run away from high tide at a beach in Puri district of eastern Odisha state, India, Thursday, May 2, 2019. (AP)
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Damaged structures and tress are seen amid gusty winds in Puri district after Cyclone Fani hit the coastal eastern state of Odisha, India, Friday, May 3, 2019. (AP)
Updated 04 May 2019

Major cyclone kills three in India, Bangladesh

  • Cyclone Fani, one of the biggest storms to come off the Indian Ocean in recent years, made landfall in eastern India on Friday
  • The airport at Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, will be shut on Friday

KOLKATA: Normally bustling Kolkata was eerily quiet late Friday as one of the biggest cyclones to hit India in years bore down on the major city after leaving a trail of deadly destruction in its wake.
Cyclone Fani ("Snake" in Bengali) slammed into the eastern state of Odisha earlier in the day, reportedly killing at least eight people and one in Bangladesh, where it was headed after Kolkata, officials said.
With effects felt as far away as Mount Everest, winds gusting up to 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour sent coconut trees flying and cut off power, water and telecommunications.
Authorities in Odisha, where 10,000 people perished in a 1999 cyclone, had evacuated more than a million people as they worried about a possible 1.5-metre (five-foot) storm surge sweeping far inland.
Eight people were killed, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported, including a teenage boy, a woman hit by concrete debris and an elderly woman who suffered a heart attack in one of several thousand shelters packed with families.
Odisha disaster management official Prabhat Mahapatra said there were not yet any confirmed casualty figures.
"Around 160 people were injured in Puri alone. Our relief work is ongoing," he told AFP.
Authorities in Bangladesh, next in Fani's trajectory, said a woman was killed by a tree, and that 14 villages were inundated as a tidal surge breached flood dams. Some 400,000 people have been taken to shelters, officials told AFP.
Hundreds of thousands more people in India's West Bengal state have also been given orders to flee. Local airports have been shut, with train lines and roads closed.
"It just went dark and then suddenly we could barely see five metres in front of us," said one resident in the holy city of Puri, where Fani made landfall.
"There were roadside food carts, store signs all flying by in the air," the man told AFP. "The wind is deafening."
Another witness said he saw a small car being blown along a street by the winds and then turned over.
PTI reported that a big crane collapsed and that a police booth was dragged 60 metres (yards) by the wind.
As Fani headed northeastwards, losing strength but still packing a punch, Odisha authorities battled to remove fallen trees and other debris strewn over roads and to restore phone and internet services.
Electricity pylons were down, tin roofs were ripped off, piles of bricks could be seen and windows of hotels and homes were smashed.
Puri's famous 12th-century Jagannath Temple escaped damage however.
Gouranga Malick, 48, was solemnly picking up bricks after the small two-room house he shared with his six-strong family collapsed, its roof blown away.
"I have never witnessed this type of devastation in my lifetime," he told AFP.
"Energy infrastructure has been completely destroyed," Odisha's chief minister Naveen Patnaik said.
A baby was born near Odisha's capital Bhubaneswar just as the cyclone tore through.
"We are calling her Lady Fani," a spokesperson for the hospital told PTI.
Next in Fani's sights was West Bengal's capital Kolkata, home to 4.5 million people, with the eye of the storm due around midnight (1830 GMT) and rain already falling hard several hours before.
The city normally teeming with people was all but deserted, with shopping malls shut and hawkers absent from the pavements after packing up their stalls. Only a few vehicles packed with people heading home plied the roads.
Subrata Das, manager of the AXIS Mall, said: "We have seen how the cyclone ravaged some buildings in Bhubaneswar. We don't want to take any risk. We are trying to survive the cyclone."
"If we don't take our things, we fear the cyclone will raze everything," said Murad Hussain, 45, who runs a stall.
"We are monitoring the situation 24/7 and doing all it takes... Be alert, take care and stay safe for the next two days," West Bengal's chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.
The winds were felt as far away as Mount Everest, with tents blown away at Camp 2 at 6,400 metres (21,000 feet) and Nepali authorities cautioning helicopters against flying.
Ports have been closed but the Indian Navy has sent six warships to the region. Hundreds of workers were taken off offshore oil rigs.
"We are mooring our boat because it's the only means of income for us. Only Allah knows when we can go back to fishing again," Akbar Ali, a fisherman near the town of Dacope in Bangladesh, told AFP while battling surging waves to tie his boat to a tree.

South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

Updated 14 October 2019

South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

  • Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in
  • The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long

SEOUL: South Korea’s justice minister resigned Monday, citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul’s liberal government and spurred huge protests.

Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn’t remain a government minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.

Huge crowds of Cho’s supporters and critics have marched in South Korea’s capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has deepened the country’s political divide.

Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho’s offer.

Cho’s resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a medical school in Busan.

“I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government with issues surrounding my family,” Cho said in an emailed statement. “I think the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution would only be possible if I step down from my position.”

Moon’s liberal Minjoo Party and Cho’s supporters, who occupied streets in front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday, have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.

South Korea’s main opposition party called Cho’s resignation offer “too late” and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.

In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was “very sorry for consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people” over his hand-picked choice but also praised Cho’s “passion for prosecutorial reform and willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done.”

Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite parliamentary resistance. But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of parliamentary elections in April.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long. “Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people’s voices only after his and his ruling party’s approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?” the conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.

In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when there’s no complaint.

Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents and carry out vendettas.

The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.

Recent polls indicate Moon’s popularity has sank to the lowest levels since he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon’s performance in state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.