Death toll in Australia bushfires rises to four

A firefighter puts spot fires out in Old Bar, 350km north of Sydney on November 11, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 November 2019

Death toll in Australia bushfires rises to four

  • More than 100 blazes were burning on Thursday
  • Hundreds of houses have already been damaged or destroyed

BURRELL CREEK, Australia: The death toll from devastating bushfires in eastern Australia has risen to four after a man’s body was discovered in a scorched area of bushland, police said Thursday.

Three others have perished in bushfires in New South Wales, the state worst affected by a series of catastrophic fires that broke out along the eastern seaboard late last week.

Residents found the body — believed to be a 58-year-old man last seen on Friday — near the New South Wales town of Kempsey, one of several areas hit by the fires in recent days.

More than 100 blazes were burning on Thursday but a respite from tough conditions has seen the danger from many fires downgraded and residents returning to sift through the remains of their homes.

Hundreds of houses have already been damaged or destroyed and more than one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land burnt in the blazes.

Challenging conditions were expected to flare again in Queensland and New South Wales at the weekend as the temperature rises and winds pick up, and many blazes are still proving difficult to contain.

In Burrell Creek, dozens of firefighters were preparing to battle an out-of-control bushfire that has so far engulfed 24,000 hectares from the coastal town of Old Bar inland to Hillville in northern New South Wales.

Native wildlife has also been badly hit by the bushfires, with conservationists estimating that hundreds of koalas have perished.

As many as 350 koalas died in a single nature reserve near Port Macquarie alone, raising fears for the future of the creature in the area.

Nick Boyle, of Taronga Conservation Society, said “our hearts are breaking” not only for the victims but also for the “defenseless wildlife” that had been killed by the state’s “earliest and worst” bushfire season.

“Pressures on the koala were already compounding,” he said, citing habitat loss and non-native predators. “And now this.”

Bushfire-prone Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say is being exacerbated by climate change.

The Bureau of Meteorology says human-caused climate change is increasing the “frequency and severity” of dangerous bushfire conditions by raising temperatures, sapping moisture from the environment and causing an earlier and more extreme fire season.

The bushfires have created mounting pressure on the conservative government to curb fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s leaders, ever-conscious of the country’s economic reliance on mining exports, have been steadfastly ignoring those calls.


US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

Updated 07 December 2019

US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

  • The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence
  • Permanent cease-fire would be the eventual goal, said a US statement

KABUL: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held on Saturday the first official talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban since President Donald Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September.
The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a US statement. Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.
The meetings being held in the Middle eastern State of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, follow several days of talks in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Ghani calling him a US puppet.
Ghani leads the Afghan government with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the United States after the presidential elections in 2014 were so deeply mired in corruption that a clear winner could not be determined.
To head off a conflict Washington stepped in and forced the two leading candidates __ Ghani and Abdullah __ to share power in a so-called Unity Government that has been largely paralyzed because of the relentless bickering between the two leaders.
The Afghan government is now embroiled in a fresh elections standoff. Presidential polls on Sept. 28 again ended in accusations of misconduct and corruption, with no results yet announced.
Repeat leading contender Abdullah has challenged the recounting of several hundred thousand ballots, accusing his opponent Ghani of trying to manipulate the tally.
Meanwhile, Khalilzad’s return to his peace mission followed Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan in which he said talks with the Taliban were back on.
While Khalilzad is talking to the Taliban about reducing violence, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday US airstrikes killed 37 Taliban and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed another 22 of the militants.
The insurgents have continued to carry put near daily strikes against military outposts throughout the country. They now hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan.
Trump has expressed frustration with America’s longest war repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 US soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan’s own police and military to step up. The Afghan government has also been criticized for its relentless corruption.