Charity ship rescues more than 110 migrants in Mediterranean

Charity ship rescues more than 110 migrants in Mediterranean
A medic of the French NGO SOS Mediterranee takes the temperature of migrants rescued by Ocean Viking crew members, off the coast of Lampedusa island, Italy, on June 25, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2020

Charity ship rescues more than 110 migrants in Mediterranean

Charity ship rescues more than 110 migrants in Mediterranean
  • Migrants drifting in the Mediterranean on two makeshift boats were rescued in separate operations
  • After both sets of migrants boarded, the ship’s crew took their temperatures and gave them a mask

ON BOARD THE OCEAN VIKING: More than 110 migrants drifting in the Mediterranean on two makeshift boats were rescued on Thursday in separate operations by a ship chartered by a French charity, an AFP reporter onboard said.
“I love you all!” said one of the migrants when the Ocean Viking — chartered by French aid group SOS- Mediterranee — arrived at their boat in the waters around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
There were 67 people onboard their grey boat, mainly men and youths from Bangladesh and Morocco.
The boat had been spotted by the plane Moon Bird, of fellow migrant resue charity Sea-Watch, SOS-Mediterranee said.
Earlier in the day, the ship rescued 51 migrants on a blue wooden boat including one woman and five children, mainly of Pakistani and Eritrean nationality.
They were found huddled together on a boat whose two engines had stopped working, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Lampedusa, located between Malta and Tunisia.
That rescue operation took place at the crossroads between the Italian and Maltese search and rescue zones, SOS-Mediterranee said, adding: “We have asked the authorities of both countries for a safe place to disembark.”
The Ocean Viking set sail again on Monday after three months of inactivity due to the coronavirus crisis.
After both sets of migrants boarded, the ship’s crew took their temperatures and gave them a mask.
One person on the blue boat was running a temperature and was quarantined as a precaution, the AFP reporter said.
The rescued migrants were visibly relieved to leave behind the precarious blue boat. In the midst of a pile of shoes, phone chargers, plastic bags, biscuits and vomit, there was only one lifejacket in sight, the correspondent said.
More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
The arrival of summer and more favorable conditions at sea may lead to an increase of attempts to cross the Mediterranean with the hope of arriving in Europe.


UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 

UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 
Updated 48 min 20 sec ago

UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 

UK govt under fire for not retaliating against tanker attack 
  • Tehran blamed for drone strike off Omani coast that killed Briton, Romanian
  • British silence means ‘we have let Iran get away with murder,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The UK government has been criticized for failing to retaliate after a British Army veteran was killed in an alleged Iranian drone attack on an oil tanker off Oman’s coast.
The unidentified Briton was killed on Saturday after a so-called kamikaze drone struck the oil tanker he was serving on as a security officer. 
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Tehran for the attack on the Mercer Street vessel, and urged Britain to retaliate. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, however, has remained silent on the incident.
Lapid said: “I noted (to Raab) the need to respond severely to the attack. Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terror, destruction and instability that hurt us all. The world must not be silent in the face of Iranian terror.” 
Sam Armstrong, director of communications at the London-based Henry Jackson Society think tank, told Arab News: “Despite Iran’s regular offenses, Britain has continued to look the other way. From the kidnapping of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to drone attacks on Saudi oilfields, the hijacking of British-flagged boats and the support of terror activities that have killed Britons around the Middle East, we have let Iran get away with murder.”
He added: “Weakly ignoring these violations and attacks only inspires Tehran to commit worse atrocities. This policy will cost more British lives. Not only is this a naive approach, hoping blindly that this terroristic regime will go away, but it’s also a stupid one that threatens the security of our nation.”
Israel is expected to launch a diplomatic assault on Iran via the UN, but it remains unclear if London will react to the drone strike, which also claimed the life of a Romanian worker. 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the incident with Lapid and other regional partners “to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps.”
On Saturday, Israeli media carried a quote from a military officer saying a response to the attack on the Mercer Street would be forthcoming, adding: “The only question is how and when we’ll respond.”
Armstrong said: “While the US and Israel are holding discussions to determine what happened and plan a response, London is staying silent despite the loss of a Briton’s life. This cowardly silence demeans Britain on the world stage.”
He added: “We’re leaving the important work of defending our citizens and countering Iranian aggression to other countries.”
The UK Foreign Office said in a statement on Friday: “We are deeply concerned by today’s incident off the coast of Oman. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the British and Romanian nationals killed in the incident. Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the allegations are “baseless,” but state TV channel Al-Alam said the drone strike was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” on a Syrian military airport.
The Syrian regime has been supported by Iranian forces, with Tehran viewing its survival as crucial to its own security.
The strike on the Mercer Street shared similar tactics and procedures to kamikaze drones operated by the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, where unmanned aircraft packed with explosives detonate on or near the intended target.

The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government regularly intercepts Iranian-made drones in Yemen and the surrounding region.
The tanker was in the northern Indian Ocean — beyond Iran’s usual area of activity — when it was hit.

Zodiac Maritime, which operated the Japanese-owned tanker, said it is being directed to a “safe location” with a US naval escort.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iran and security researcher at Israel’s IDC Herzliya university, said the attack was “most probably” carried out by Iran.
The strike is a sign of rising tensions and the increasing severity of assaults on tankers. The deaths are the first fatalities following years of tanker attacks.


Thai protesters demand PM resign amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Thai protesters demand PM resign amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Updated 01 August 2021

Thai protesters demand PM resign amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Thai protesters demand PM resign amid surge in COVID-19 cases
  • ‘The government failed to provide vaccines on time and many of us haven’t had any vaccine yet’
  • On Sunday, Thailand reported 18,027 new infections and 133 new deaths from COVID-19

BANGKOK: Anti-government protesters in Thailand took to the streets in cars and motorcycles on Sunday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha over his handling of the spread of COVID-19, as the country struggles with its biggest outbreak to date.
In Bangkok, drivers honked horns and motorcyclists raised three-finger salutes — a gesture of resistance inspired by “The Hunger Games” movie — as they headed along a 20 km (12 miles) route stretching from the Democracy Monument in the center of the capital out to Don Muang International Airport.
“We can barely make a living now, all of my family members have been affected,” said a 47-year-old protester speaking from his car who only gave his first name “Chai,” for fear of government repercussions.
“The government failed to provide vaccines on time and many of us haven’t had any vaccine yet,” he said. “If we don’t come out to make our calls, the government will simply ignore us.”
There were also similar protests in other provinces.
The Southeast Asian country aims to inoculate 50 million people by the end of 2021, but so far, only 5.8 percent of its more than 66 million population are fully vaccinated, while about 21 percent have received at least one dose.
On Sunday, Thailand reported 18,027 new infections and 133 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing total accumulated cases to 615,314 and 4,990 fatalities.


Millions of Americans risk eviction as coronavirus cases spike

Millions of Americans risk eviction as coronavirus cases spike
Updated 01 August 2021

Millions of Americans risk eviction as coronavirus cases spike

Millions of Americans risk eviction as coronavirus cases spike
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention feared homelessness would boost coronavirus infections

WASHINGTON: Millions of Americans could find themselves homeless starting Sunday as a nationwide ban on evictions expires, against a backdrop of surging coronavirus cases and political fingerpointing.
With billions in government funds meant to help renters still untapped, President Joe Biden this week urged Congress to extend the 11-month-old moratorium after a recent Supreme Court ruling meant the White House could not do so.
But Republicans balked at Democratic efforts to extend the eviction ban through mid-October, and the House of Representatives adjourned for its summer vacation Friday without renewing it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said blocking the measure was “an act of pure cruelty... leaving children and families out on the streets,” in a tweet late Saturday.
Several left-wing Democrats had spent the night outside the Capitol in protest — calling out their colleagues over the failure to act.
“We slept at the Capitol last night to ask them to come back and do their jobs. Today’s their last chance,” tweeted Congresswoman Cori Bush, who has herself experienced homelessness and was joined by fellow progressives Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.
With the clock ticking down to Sunday, the country was braced for a heartbreaking spectacle — families with their belongings at the curbside wondering where to go.
One of those at risk is Terriana Clark, who was living out of a car with her husband and two stepchildren for much of last year, before finding a teaching job and an apartment in Harvey, Louisiana.
Jobless again and struggling to pay rent after a bout of illness, the 27-year-old told The New Orleans Advocate she applied to a local assistance program four months ago, but is still waiting for help.
“If it comes, it comes. If it don’t, it don’t,” she told the paper. “It’s going to be too late for a lot of people. A lot of people are going to be outside.”
Up north in Michigan, Mary Hunt, who makes minimum wage driving a medical taxi, likewise fell behind on her rent on a mobile home because she got sick with COVID-19.
She was served with eviction papers, and frets over what she will do with her stuff and her five cats and one dog.
“How do I choose which cats to keep? It’s not going to happen. I’m not going to leave any of them behind,” Hunt told National Public Radio this week.
“If I lose this house, then they go in the car with me. And people can think I’m a crackpot, but I’m not giving up my family,” Hunt said.
Unlike other pandemic-related aid that was distributed from Washington, such as stimulus checks, it was states, counties, and cities that were responsible for building programs from the ground up to dole out assistance earmarked for renters.
The Treasury Department said that as of June, only $3 billion in aid had reached households out of the $25 billion sent to states and localities in early February, less than three weeks after Biden took office.
Pelosi in another tweet Saturday urged “state and local governments to immediately disburse the $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance approved by the Democratic Congress so that many families can avoid eviction.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered the eviction moratorium in September 2020, as the world’s largest economy lost over 20 million jobs amid the pandemic shutdowns. The CDC feared homelessness would boost coronavirus infections.
Although more than half of those jobs were since recovered, many families still have not caught up on missed rent payments.
The Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse survey showed that of 51 million renters surveyed, 7.4 million were behind on rent and nearly half of those said they risked being evicted in the next two months.
Nearly 80 percent of households that are behind on their rent as of early July lived in COVID-19 hot spots, according to a study by the Jain Family Institute.
“Putting people out on the street is probably not going to have good effects on community transmission rates,” the institute’s housing policy researcher Paul Williams told CBS MoneyWatch.
Immediately after taking over, the Biden administration had eased paperwork and eligibility requirements for an emergency rental assistance program, but it has stressed that management remains in the hands of state and local officials.
“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” Biden warned Friday.
The CDC eviction moratorium and other protections prevented an estimated 2.2 million eviction filings since March 2020, said Peter Hepburn, a research fellow at the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.


Myanmar junta chief says new elections in two years

Myanmar junta chief says new elections in two years
Updated 01 August 2021

Myanmar junta chief says new elections in two years

Myanmar junta chief says new elections in two years
  • Country has been in turmoil since the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi in February
  • A resurgent virus wave has also amplified havoc, with many hospitals empty of pro-democracy medical staff

YANGON: Myanmar’s junta chief said Sunday that elections would be held and a state of emergency lifted by August 2023, extending the military’s initial timeline given when it deposed Aung San Suu Kyi six months ago.
The country has been in turmoil since the army ousted the civilian leader in February, launching a bloody crackdown on dissent that has killed more than 900 people according to a local monitoring group.
A resurgent virus wave has also amplified havoc, with many hospitals empty of pro-democracy medical staff, and the World Bank has forecast the economy will contract by up to 18 percent.
In a televised address junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said “we will accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023.”
“I pledge to hold multiparty elections without fail,” he added.
The general’s announcement would place Myanmar in the military’s grip for nearly two and a half years — instead of the initial one-year timeline the junta announced days after the coup.
The army has justified its power grab by alleging massive fraud during 2020 elections won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in a landslide, and has threatened to dissolve the party.
Last week it canceled the results of the polls, announcing it had uncovered over 11 million instances of voter fraud.
Suu Kyi has been detained since February 1 and faces an eclectic raft of charges — from flouting coronavirus restrictions to illegally importing walkie talkies — which could see her jailed for more than a decade.
Across Myanmar small groups of demonstrators marched Sunday, six months after soldiers launched their putsch with pre-dawn raids, ending a decade-long experiment with democracy.
Protesters in the northern town of Kale held banners reading “strength for the revolution” while demonstrators let off flares at a march in the commercial capital Yangon.
Tens of thousands of civil servants and other workers have either been sacked for joining rallies or are still on strike in support of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign.
The NLD saw their support increase in the 2020 vote compared to the previous election in 2015.
In a report on the 2020 polls, the Asian Network for Free Elections monitoring group said the elections were “by and large, representative of the will of the people.”


Rockets hit Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan, flights suspended

Rockets hit Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan, flights suspended
Updated 01 August 2021

Rockets hit Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan, flights suspended

Rockets hit Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan, flights suspended

KANDAHAR: At least three rockets struck Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan overnight, an official told AFP on Sunday, as the Taliban pressed on with their sweeping offensive across the country.
“Last night three rockets were fired at the airport and two of them hit the runway... Due to this all flights from the airport have been canceled,” airport chief Massoud Pashtun told AFP.
Pashtun said work to repair the runway was underway and expected the airport to be operational later on Sunday.
An official at the civil aviation authority in Kabul confirmed the rocket attack.
The Taliban have for weeks launched withering assaults on the outskirts of Kandahar, stirring fears that the insurgents were on the verge of capturing the provincial capital.
Kandahar’s air base is vital to providing the logistics and air support needed to keep the militants from overrunning Afghanistan’s second-biggest city.
The attack on the airport came as the Taliban inched closer to overrunning two other provincial capitals — Herat in the west and Lashkar Gah in the south.
The Taliban’s significant territorial gains during the final stages of the US military withdrawal have largely been in sparsely populated rural areas.
But in recent weeks they have brought increasing pressure on several provincial capitals and seized key border crossings.
The capture of any major urban center would take their current offensive to another level and fuel concerns that the army is incapable of resisting the Taliban’s battlefield gains.
The government has repeatedly dismissed the Taliban’s steady territorial gains over the summer as lacking strategic value.