Quake death toll at 56 as Indonesia struggles with string of disasters

This aerial picture shows houses damaged following a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Mamuju, Indonesia, on January 17, 2021. (AFP / ADEK BERRY)
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This aerial picture shows houses damaged following a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Mamuju, Indonesia, on January 17, 2021. (AFP / ADEK BERRY)
A police line is placed at a damaged building following a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Mamuju, Indonesia, on January 17, 2021. (AFP / ADEK BERRY)
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A police line is placed at a damaged building following a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Mamuju, Indonesia, on January 17, 2021. (AFP / ADEK BERRY)
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Updated 17 January 2021

Quake death toll at 56 as Indonesia struggles with string of disasters

This aerial picture shows houses damaged following a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Mamuju, Indonesia, on January 17, 2021. (AFP / ADEK BERRY)
  • Disaster mitigation agency says more than 820 people were injured
  • About 15,000 left their homes after the 6.2 magnitude quake

JAKARTA: At least 56 people have been killed after an earthquake struck Indonesia’s West Sulawesi province on Friday, the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, the latest in a string of disasters to hit the Southeast Asian country.
More than 820 people were injured and about 15,000 left their homes after the 6.2 magnitude quake, the BNPB said. Some sought refuge in the mountains, while others went to cramped evacuation centers, witnesses said.
Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of Indonesia’s meteorological, climatology and geophysical agency (BMKG), has said that another quake in the region could potentially trigger a tsunami.
Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.
Just two weeks into the new year, the world’s fourth-most populous country is again battling several disasters.
Floods in North Sulawesi and South Kalimantan province each have killed at least five this month, while landslides in West Java province have killed at least 28, authorities said.
On Jan. 9, a Sriwijaya Air jet crashed into the Java Sea with 62 onboard.
East Java’s Semeru mountain erupted late on Saturday, but there have been no reports of casualties or evacuations.
Dwikorita said extreme weather and other “multi-dangers” of hydrometeorology are forecast in the coming weeks.


Biden: Strikes in Syria sent warning to Iran to 'be careful'

Biden: Strikes in Syria sent warning to Iran to 'be careful'
Updated 3 min 41 sec ago

Biden: Strikes in Syria sent warning to Iran to 'be careful'

Biden: Strikes in Syria sent warning to Iran to 'be careful'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view his decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or personnel.
“You can't act with impunity. Be careful,” Biden said when a reporter asked what message he had intended to send with the airstrikes, which the Pentagon said destroyed several buildings in eastern Syria but were not intended to eradicate the militia groups that used them to facilitate attacks inside Iraq.
Administration officials defended the Thursday night airstrikes as legal and appropriate, saying they took out facilities that housed valuable “capabilities” used by Iranian-backed militia groups to attack American and allied forces in Iraq.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, said members of Congress were notified before the strikes as two Air Force F-15E aircraft launched seven missiles, destroying nine facilities and heavily damaging two others, rendering both “functionally destroyed.” He said the facilities, at “entry control points” on the border, had been used by militia groups the U.S. deems responsible for recent attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq.
In a political twist for the new Democratic administration, several leading Congress members in Biden's own party denounced the strikes, which were the first military actions he authorized. Democrats said the airstrikes were done without authorization from lawmakers, while Republicans were more supportive.
“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said lawmakers must hold the current administration to the same standards as any other. “Retaliatory strikes not necessary to prevent an imminent threat,” he said, must get congressional authorization.
But Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed the decision as “the correct, proportionate response to protect American lives.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used his constitutional authority to defend U.S. personnel.
"The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on facilities and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” she said.
Among the recent attacks cited was a Feb. 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops.
At the Pentagon, Kirby said the operation was “a defensive strike” on a waystation used by militants to move weapons and materials for attacks into Iraq. But he noted that while it sent a message of deterrence and eroded their ability to strike from that compound, the militias have other sites and capabilities. He said the strikes resulted in “casualties” but declined to provide further details on how many were killed or injured and what was inside the buildings pending the completion of a broader assessment of damage inflicted.
An Iraqi militia official said Friday that the strikes killed one fighter and wounded several others.
Kirby said the facilities hit in the attack were near Boukamal, on the Syrian side of the Iraq border, along the Euphrates River.
“This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity,” he said. He described the site as a “compound” that previously had been used by the Islamic State group when it held sway in the area.
The Iraqi militia official told The Associated Press that the strikes against the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, hit an area along the border between the Syrian site of Boukamal facing Qaim on the Iraqi side. The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the attack and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Speaking to reporters Thursday evening shortly after the airstrikes were carried out, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “I’m confident in the target that we went after. We know what we hit.”
Biden’s decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend U.S. troops in Iraq and send a message to Iran. The Biden administration in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist.
The U.S. has previously targeted facilities in Syria belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, which it has blamed for numerous attacks targeting U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi Kataeb is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the war in Syria, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons that were being taken by trucks entering Syrian territories from Iraq. The group said 22 fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries that includes Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed. The report could not be independently verified.
In a statement, the group confirmed one of its fighters was killed and said it reserved the right to retaliate, without elaborating. Kataeb Hezbollah, like other Iranian-backed factions, maintains fighters in Syria to both fight against the Islamic State group and assist Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in that country's civil war.
Austin said he was confident the U.S. had hit back at “the same Shia militants” that carried out the Feb.1 5 rocket attack in northern Iraq.
Kirby credited Iraqis with providing valuable intelligence that allowed the U.S. to identify the groups responsible for attacks earlier this year. The U.S., he said, then determined the appropriate target for the retaliatory strike. He said the U.S. also notified Russia shortly before the strike as part of the ongoing deconfliction process of military activities in Syria.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said.
Syria condemned the U.S. strike, calling it “a cowardly and systematic American aggression,” warning that the attack will lead to consequences.
U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group.

WATCH: Saudi Crown Prince attends Formula E Diriyah E-Prix second race

 Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in attendance for the second race of the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix weekend in Riyadh on Saturday. (Screenshot)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in attendance for the second race of the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix weekend in Riyadh on Saturday. (Screenshot)
Updated 42 min 44 sec ago

WATCH: Saudi Crown Prince attends Formula E Diriyah E-Prix second race

 Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in attendance for the second race of the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix weekend in Riyadh on Saturday. (Screenshot)
  • Crown prince received good wishes as he arrived following successful operation

LONDON: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in attendance for the second race of the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix weekend in Riyadh on Saturday.

The crown prince received good wishes from those in attendance as he arrived, following his successful operation earlier this week.

UNESCO World Heritage site Diriyah is host of the opening round of the FIA Formula E world championship this weekend.

In an electric opening race on Friday night, Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries claimed a maiden Formula E victory.

Dutch driver Robin Frijns, in the Envision Virgin Racing car, started on pole for the second race.


Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows
Updated 27 February 2021

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows

Tunisia’s main party holds huge rally as government row grows
  • In one of the biggest demonstrations since Tunisia’s revolution, thousands of Ennahda supporters marched in Tunis
  • The dispute has played out against a grim backdrop of economic anxiety and disillusionment with democracy

TUNIS: Tunisia’s biggest political party assembled an immense crowd of supporters in the capital on Saturday in a show of strength that could fuel a dispute between the president and the prime minister.
In one of the biggest demonstrations since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, tens of thousands of Ennahda supporters marched through central Tunis chanting “The people want to protect institutions!” and “The people want national unity!.”
The dispute has played out against a grim backdrop of economic anxiety, disillusionment with democracy and competing reform demands from foreign lenders and the UGTT, the powerful main labor union, as debt repayments loom.
Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party led by Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, has backed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in a standoff with President Kais Saied over a cabinet reshuffle.
Banned before the revolution, it has been a member of most governing coalitions since then and, although its share of the vote has fallen in recent years, it still holds the most seats in parliament.
“Nationalists, Islamists, democrats and communists,” Ghannouchi told the crowd, “we were gathered together during the dictatorship ... and we must unite again.”
The most recent election, in 2019, delivered a fragmented parliament while propelling Saied, an independent, to the presidency.
When the government collapsed after only five months in office, Saied nominated Mechichi as prime minister.
But they soon fell out, and Mechichi turned for support to the two biggest parties — Ennahda and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia.
Last month, Mechichi changed 11 ministers in a reshuffle seen as replacing Saied’s allies with those of Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia. The president has refused to swear four of them in, however.
Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting last month against inequality and police abuses focused most of their anger on Mechichi and Ennahda.
Ennahda billed Saturday’s march as “in support of democracy,” but it was widely seen as an effort to mobilize popular opposition to Saied — raising the spectre of competing protest movements.
“This is a strong message that all the people want dialogue and national unity,” Fethi Ayadi, a senior Ennahda official, told Reuters.
To add to the tensions, demands by foreign lenders for spending cuts, which could lead to unpopular reductions in state programs, are opposed by the UGTT.
Tunisia’s 2021 budget forecasts borrowing needs of 19.5 billion Tunisian dinars ($7.2 billion), including about $5 billion in foreign loans.
But Tunisia’s credit rating has fallen since the coronavirus pandemic began, and market concerns about its ability to raise funds are reflected in sharp price rises for Tunisian credit default swaps — insurance against default on its debt. ($1 = 2.7 Tunisian dinars)


UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 27 February 2021

UK risks creating ‘new Guantanamo in Syria’

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Charity slams govt’s ‘abdication of responsibility’ over ‘Daesh bride’ Shamima Begum

LONDON: The UK risks creating a “new Guantanamo” in Syria through the practice of revoking the citizenships of Daesh accomplices, the director of a human rights charity has warned.

Shamima Begum, a former “Daesh bride,” appealed against the stripping of her citizenship, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor on Friday.

The director of human rights charity Reprieve, Maya Foa, who was involved in Begum’s case, said the ruling has left the 21-year-old in a “legal limbo,” where she cannot return to the UK or mount a legal challenge remotely.

“The court has said she can appeal against the decision, but they do not say how it can be done. It leaves her in the hands of the British government, which is unwilling to assist,” Foa added.

“That is less of a policy and more of an abdication of responsibility — unless the policy is to create a new Guantanamo in Syria.”

Supporters of Begum claim that she regrets her decision to leave the UK to join Daesh, and is remorseful about her actions.

Critics of the government decision say Begum was a minor and a victim of trafficking, who was unable to leave Syria until she was detained in the wake of Daesh’s defeat.

About 24 adults and 35 children who left the UK to join Daesh are still detained in Syrian camps, where conditions are said to be dismal. Many have been stripped of their UK citizenship.

The ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday means that Begum is forbidden from entering the UK to fight her case.

She left London aged 15 with two friends to join Daesh in Syria six years ago. Despite being born in the UK, her citizenship was stripped in 2019 by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid after she was discovered living in a prison camp by a UK journalist.

British law permits the removal of a person’s citizenship if it is deemed “conducive to the public good.” However, it is illegal to remove a person’s citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless.

But Javid said Begum was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, where her parents were born and had citizenship.

Intelligence agencies say about 900 Britons traveled to Syria or Iraq to join Daesh. About 20 percent of them were killed and 40 percent returned home.


Arab region voices support for Saudi Arabia over US Khashoggi report

Arab region voices support for Saudi Arabia over US Khashoggi report
Updated 8 min 20 sec ago

Arab region voices support for Saudi Arabia over US Khashoggi report

Arab region voices support for Saudi Arabia over US Khashoggi report
  • The Secretary-General of the OIC said it rejects “the incorrect conclusions contained” in the US report
  • Arab Parliament stresses pivotal role that the Kingdom plays in consolidating security in the Arab region

LONDON: Arab countries and organizations expressed their support on Saturday for a statement released by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry. The statement concerned the report provided to the US Congress on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a statement, Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry rejected anything that affects the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain’s Shoura Council affirmed “the prominent and pivotal role played by Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to lay down the foundations of regional and global security and peace.”
The council also praised diplomatic efforts exerted by Saudi Arabia through its foreign diplomacy in the region and the world, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported.

The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its confidence in and support for the Saudi judiciary, as well as the Kingdom’s commitment to enforcing the law with transparency and integrity and to holding those responsible for the murder to account.

The Ministry affirmed the UAE’s solidarity with Saudi Arabia in its efforts to maintain stability and security in the region and the key role it plays in maintaining moderation in the Arab world.

The UAE rejects any attempts to exploit the Jamal Khashoggi case or interfere in Saudi internal affairs, the ministry said.

Kuwait’s foreign ministry expressed its support for Saudi Arabia’s statement and stressed the important role played by the Kingdom in supporting moderation regionally and internationally and in denouncing extremism.

The ministry said that it categorically rejects any attempts to affect the Kingdom’s sovereignty.

 

Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed the Sultanate's solidarity with the Kingdom, saying it appreciated the efforts and actions of the competent judicial authorities in the Kingdom regarding the case and its outcome.

The Muslim World League (MWL) also affirmed its full support for Saudi Arabia’s statement.

MWL secretary-general Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa said the league rejects the conclusions of the report and affirmed the confidence of the Muslim world, led by Saudi Arabia, in all measures taken by the Kingdom.

Al-Issa added that the league rejects any interference that affects the Kingdom’s sovereignty. 

The Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said it categorically rejects “the incorrect conclusions contained” in the US report which is “devoid of any conclusive evidence.”

The organization rejected attempts to infringe the Kingdom’s sovereignty, insult its leadership and compromise the independence of its judiciary.

It expressed support for all judicial measures that were taken against the perpetrators of the murder who were brought to justice, and the sentences that were issued.

The Arab Parliament affirmed its support for the Saudi statement and expressed its categorical rejection of any infringement of the sovereignty of the Kingdom and the independence of its judiciary.

The parliament stressed the pivotal role that the Kingdom plays in consolidating security and stability in the Arab region and the Middle East and its policy of supporting international peace.

The Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajjraf, affirmed his appreciation for the pivotal role the Kingdom plays in enhancing regional and international security and peace, and its great role in combating terrorism and supporting the efforts of the international community in this regard.

Al-Hajjraf said the report is nothing more than an opinion that is devoid of any conclusive evidence. He expressed his support for any measures that the Kingdom takes in order to preserve its rights and support its role in promoting a culture of moderation.

Yemen also rejected everything that might affect the sovereignty of the Kingdom and the independence of its judiciary.