Magnitude 8.1 quake hits off New Zealand, prompting evacuations

Magnitude 8.1 quake hits off New Zealand, prompting evacuations
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Updated 05 March 2021

Magnitude 8.1 quake hits off New Zealand, prompting evacuations

Magnitude 8.1 quake hits off New Zealand, prompting evacuations
  • The quake was the largest in a series of tremors that struck the region over several hours
  • Quakes did not appear to pose widespread threat because of the remoteness of where they hit

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A powerful magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck in the ocean off the coast of New Zealand on Friday, prompting thousands of people to evacuate and triggering tsunami warnings across the South Pacific.

The quake was the largest in a series of tremors that struck the region over several hours, including two earlier quakes that registered magnitude 7.4 and magnitude 7.3.
While the quakes triggered warning systems and caused traffic jams and some chaos in New Zealand as people scrambled to get to higher ground, they did not appear to pose a widespread threat to lives or major infrastructure.
That’s because of the remoteness of where they hit. The largest struck about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the coast of New Zealand.
One of the earlier quakes hit much closer to New Zealand and awoke many people during the night as they felt a long, rumbling shaking.
“Hope everyone is ok out there,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook.
After the largest quake, civil defense authorities in New Zealand told people in certain areas on the East Coast of the North Island that they should move immediately to higher ground and not stay in their homes. They said a damaging tsunami was possible.
The US Tsunami Warning System also cautioned that the larger quake could cause tsunami waves of between 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet) in French Polynesia and waves of up to 1 meter (3 feet) in Niue, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunamis could later strike Hawaii.
The US Geological Survey said the larger quake was centered in the remote Kermadec Islands at a depth of 19 kilometers (12 miles).
Officials in New Zealand had hours earlier issued a tsunami warning for coastal areas after the first of the smaller earthquakes struck off its northeastern coast at about 3 a.m. Friday. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties, and the warning was lifted just before the larger quake struck.
The US Geological Survey said the first quake was centered at a depth of 21 kilometers (13 miles) under the ocean about 174 kilometers (108 miles) northeast of the city of Gisborne.
It was widely felt in New Zealand, and residents in the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch reported being shaken awake.
In 2011, a magnitude 6.3 quake hit the city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and destroying much of its downtown.


Greece says resolving differences with Turkey may be hard, but not impossible

Greece says resolving differences with Turkey may be hard, but not impossible
Updated 12 min 24 sec ago

Greece says resolving differences with Turkey may be hard, but not impossible

Greece says resolving differences with Turkey may be hard, but not impossible
  • The two countries are NATO allies but at odds over many issues
  • Nikos Dendias says it is not possible to hide disputed issues under the rug

ATHENS: Greece cannot ignore its differences with Turkey over territorial disputes in the Mediterranean and other issues but while a solution is difficult, it is not impossible, its foreign minister told a newspaper on Sunday.
The two countries are NATO allies but at odds over many issues, including competing claims over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, air space, energy resources and ethnically split Cyprus.
“It is not possible to hide under the rug issues where we have different views and approaches,” Nikos Dendias told Kathimerini newspaper in an interview.
On Thursday, Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu clashed openly at a joint news conference in Ankara that began with hopes of improved relations but quickly descended into acrimonious accusations from both sides.
It was the first visit by a Greek foreign minister to Turkey since 2015 in an effort to find common ground for a positive agenda of discussions with Ankara.
Dendias told the paper that while the climate during the talks was good, there was no convergence on many issues.
“The issue we face with Turkey is that there is no common denominator regarding the framework of resolving our differences,” Dendias told the paper.
He said Greece’s view is that demarcating its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf with Turkey in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean must be based on international law.
“I don’t see a toughening of Turkey’s stance on the issues concerning the Aegean and the east Mediterranean. But I do see fixed positions that are beyond international law, which makes resolution prospects difficult but not impossible,” he said.
Dendias said he has invited Cavusoglou to Athens to continue talks and this could help to prepare the ground for a meeting of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.


Myanmar junta pardons prisoners, to attend regional summit

Myanmar junta pardons prisoners, to attend regional summit
Updated 18 April 2021

Myanmar junta pardons prisoners, to attend regional summit

Myanmar junta pardons prisoners, to attend regional summit
  • 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners, are covered by the pardon
  • Among those released Saturday from Yangon’s Insein Prison were at least three political prisoners who were jailed in 2019

YANGON: Myanmar’s junta on Saturday released more than 23,000 prisoners to mark the traditional new year holiday, including at least three political detainees, and the military leader behind the February coup confirmed he would attend a regional summit later this month.
It wasn’t immediately clear if those released included pro-democracy activists who were detained for protesting the coup. State broadcaster MRTV said that junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing had pardoned 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar. He also reduced sentences for others.
As security forces continued the deadly crackdown, unconfirmed but credible accounts with photos on social media said that three people were killed Saturday in the central city of Mogok, in Myanmar’s gem mining region.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 728 protesters and bystanders since the takeover. The group says 3,141 people, including ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are in detention.
Among those released Saturday from Yangon’s Insein Prison were at least three political prisoners who were jailed in 2019. They are members of the Peacock Generation performing troupe who were arrested during that year’s new year celebrations for skits that poked fun at military representatives in Parliament and military involvement in business.
Their traditional style of acting is called Thangyat, a mash-up of poetry, comedy and music with a sharp undertone of satire. Several members of the troupe were convicted under a law banning circulation of information that could endanger or demoralize members of the military. The actors may have drawn the special wrath of the military because they performed in army uniforms.
Several members were also found guilty of online defamation for livestreaming their performances. It’s not clear if all of them were released.
Another freed prisoner was Ross Dunkley, an Australian newspaper entrepreneur sentenced in 2019 to 13 years on charges of drug possession. His release was confirmed by his ex-wife Cynda Johnston, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.
Dunkley co-founded the The Myanmar Times, an English-language daily, but was forced to give up his share in it. He became well-known for co-founding or acquiring English-language publications in formerly socialist states that were seeking foreign investment, but was sometimes criticized for doing business with authoritarian regimes.
Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, and this is the second batch the ruling junta has announced since taking power.
Following the release of more than 23,000 convicts to mark Union Day on Feb. 12, there were reports on social media that some were recruited by the authorities to carry out violence at night in residential areas to spread panic, especially by setting fires. Some areas responded by setting up their own neighborhood watch groups.
In March, more than 600 people who were imprisoned for demonstrating against the coup were also released from Insein Prison, a rare conciliatory gesture by the military that appeared aimed at placating the protest movement. They were mostly young people caught in sweeps of street rallies while those considered protest leaders were kept locked up.
Neither the military government nor those opposed to it show any signs of backing off. Western nations have tried to pressure the military through diplomatic and economic sanctions with little effect.
Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors, concerned about the prospects for regional instability, are also trying to get the junta to start back on the path to restoring democracy, or at least end its violent repression.
A spokesman for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry in Bangkok said Saturday that junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has confirmed he will attend a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — ASEAN — expected to be held on April 24.
Tanee Sangrat said in a text message to journalists that Brunei, the current chair of the 10-nation body, confirmed it had proposed the date for a meeting at the group’s secretariat in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Indonesia has taken the lead in calling for the special meeting to discuss the crisis in Myanmar.


US, China agree to cooperate on climate crisis with urgency

US, China agree to cooperate on climate crisis with urgency
Updated 18 April 2021

US, China agree to cooperate on climate crisis with urgency

US, China agree to cooperate on climate crisis with urgency
  • The US and China, the world’s Nos. 1 and 2 economy, are the top carbon polluters
  • They pump out nearly half of the fossil fuel fumes that are warming the planet’s atmosphere

SEOUL, South Korea: The United States and China, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, have agreed to cooperate with other countries to curb climate change, just days before President Joe Biden hosts a virtual summit of world leaders to discuss the issue.
The agreement was reached by US special envoy for climate John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhu during two days of talks in Shanghai last week, the State Department said in a statement Saturday.
“The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” the joint statement said.
The US and China, the world’s Nos. 1 and 2 economy are thetop carbon polluters. Their cooperation is key to a success of global efforts to curb climate change, but frayed ties over human rights, trade and China’s territorial claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea have been threatening to undermine such efforts.
Kerry’s Shanghai trip marked the highest-level travel to China by a US official since Biden took office in January. From Shaghai, the former secretary of state flew to South Korea for talks.
Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the April 22-23 summit. The US and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets for cutting carbon emissions ahead of or at the meeting, along with pledging financial help for climate efforts by less wealthy nations.
It’s unclear how much Kerry’s China visit would promote US-China cooperation on climate issues.
When Kerry was still in Shanghai, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng signaled Friday that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at next week’s summit.
“For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered,” Le said during an interview with The Associated Press in Beijing. “Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”
On whether Xi would join the summit, Le said “the Chinese side is actively studying the matter.”
During a video meeting with German and French leaders Friday, Xi also said that climate change “should not become a geopolitical chip, a target for attacking other countries or an excuse for trade barriers,” though he called for closer cooperation on the issue, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Biden, who has said that fighting global warming is among his highest priorities, had the United States rejoin the Paris climate accord in the first hours of his presidency, undoing the US withdrawal ordered by predecessor Donald Trump.
Major emitters of greenhouse gases are preparing for the next UN climate summit taking place in Glasgow, UK, in November. The summit aims to relaunch global efforts to keep rising global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as agreed in the Paris accord.
According to the US-China statement, the two countries would enhance “their respective actions and cooperating in multilateral processes, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.”
It said both countries “are firmly committed to working together and with other Parties to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement.”


Kremlin critic Navalny could ‘die any minute’: doctors

Kremlin critic Navalny could ‘die any minute’: doctors
In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. (AP)
Updated 18 April 2021

Kremlin critic Navalny could ‘die any minute’: doctors

Kremlin critic Navalny could ‘die any minute’: doctors
  • Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who accompanied him when he collapsed on a plane after the poisoning in August, said the situation was critical again

MOSCOW: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny risks cardiac arrest at “any minute” as his health has rapidly deteriorated, doctors warned Saturday, urging immediate access to Russia’s most famous prisoner.
On March 31, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent went on hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands.
On Saturday, US President Joe Biden added his voice to a growing international chorus of protest at the treatment of the activist, describing his situation as “totally unfair.”
Navalny, 44, was imprisoned in February and is serving two-and-a-half years on old embezzlement charges in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov around 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Moscow.
Navalny’s personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva and three more doctors including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin have asked prison officials to grant them immediate access.
“Our patient can die any minute,” Ashikhmin said on Facebook on Saturday, pointing to the opposition politician’s high potassium levels and saying Navalny should be moved to intensive care.
“Fatal arrhythmia can develop any minute.”
Navalny barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in August which he has blamed on the Kremlin. His doctors say his hunger strike might have exacerbated his condition.
Having blood potassium levels higher than 6.0 mmol (millimole) per liter usually requires immediate treatment. Navalny’s were at 7.1, the doctors said.
“This means both impaired renal function and that serious heart rhythm problems can happen any minute,” said a statement on Vasilyeva’s Twitter account.
The doctors said he had to be examined immediately “taking into account the blood tests and his recent poisoning.”

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who accompanied him when he collapsed on a plane after the poisoning in August, said the situation was critical again.
“Alexei is dying,” she said on Facebook. “With his condition it’s a matter of days.”
She said she felt like she was “on that plane again, only this time it’s landing in slow motion,” pointing out that access to Navalny was restricted and few Russians were aware of what was actually going on with him in prison.
On Saturday, responding to reporters’ questions about Navalny’s plight, Biden responded: “It’s totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate.”
More than 70 prominent international writers, artists and academics, including Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave and Benedict Cumberbatch, have called on Putin to ensure that Navalny receives proper treatment immediately.
Their appeal was published late Friday by France’s Le Monde newspaper.
Navalny’s team had earlier announced plans to stage what they said would be “modern Russia’s biggest protest.”
Navalny’s allies said they would set a date for the protest once 500,000 supporters had registered with a website. As of 2230 GMT Saturday, more than 450,000 people had signed up.
Yarmysh on Saturday urged more Russians to sign up, saying that a big rally could help save Navalny’s life.
“Putin only reacts to mass street protests,” she added.
Earlier this week, Navalny’s wife Yulia, who visited him in the penal colony, said her husband now weighed 76 kilograms (168 pounds) — down nine kilograms since starting his hunger strike.
On Friday, Russian prosecutors asked a court to label Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and the network of his regional offices “extremist” organizations in a move that would outlaw them in Russia and could result in jail time for their members.
“The darkest times are beginning for free-thinking people, for civil society in Russia,” said Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s regional offices.
 


Exclusive: Ethiopian survivors retell horrors of last month’s ‘Houthi holocaust’

Exclusive: Ethiopian survivors retell horrors of last month’s ‘Houthi holocaust’
Updated 18 April 2021

Exclusive: Ethiopian survivors retell horrors of last month’s ‘Houthi holocaust’

Exclusive: Ethiopian survivors retell horrors of last month’s ‘Houthi holocaust’
  • Witness testimonies confirm that racism underlies Houthis’ abuse of Africans trapped in Yemen
  • Lawyer says 10 women taken to hospital after the March 7 fire are now nowhere to be found

NEW YORK CITY: When Abdel Karim Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, fled the recent violence consuming Ethiopia’s Oromia region, he never imagined he would fall into the hands of Yemen’s Houthis.

In fact, like many of his compatriots desperate to escape conflict-ridden Ethiopia, he had not even heard of the Iran-backed militia, which seized control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2015.

When he first set out on his dangerous voyage across the Red Sea, Abdel Karim had envisioned an arduous overland crossing to one of the Arab Gulf states where opportunity and prosperity awaited him.

Events had taken a frightening turn in his native Ethiopia, where the security situation has continued to deteriorate amid growing unrest and political tensions. Human rights abuses, attacks by armed groups and communal and ethnic violence have forced thousands to seek refuge abroad.

Abdel Karim’s first encounter with the Houthis came just two days after his arrival in Sanaa, when two militiamen approached him in a marketplace. They singled him out in the crowd and demanded to see his ID.

Without so much as glancing at his papers, he was placed under arrest and taken to the city’s Immigration, Passport and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) Holding Facility, where he found hundreds of African migrants languishing.

Among them was Issa Abdul Rahman Hassan, 20, who had been working a shift at a Sanaa restaurant to save for his journey when Houthi militiamen stormed in and carried him off to the detention center.

There he was placed inside a hangar with dozens of others. In a video recorded three months after his arrival, Issa gestures around him. “Look, we are living on top of each other. We have no food. No water. Some people are exhausted, as you can see. They just sleep night and day.

“We don’t even have medicine here. And organizations like UNHCR do not care about us. All of us here are Oromo,” he said, referring to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

Human Rights Watch has corroborated several accounts like Issa’s, describing conditions in the detention center as “cramped and unsanitary, with up to 550 migrants in a hangar in the facility compound.”

On March 7, unable to tolerate these conditions any longer, the migrants went on hunger strike.

Conditions in the hangar before the fire were bad enough. (Oromia Human Rights Organization photo)

According to witness testimonies, the camp’s Houthi guards told the migrants to say their “final prayers” before firing tear gas and what may have been a flash grenade into the hangar. A fire quickly broke out.

Amid the smoke and chaos, migrants trampled one another in their desperation to escape. According to Houthi accounts, 40 migrants succumbed to the smoke and flames. Human rights groups put the figure closer to 450 — not to mention the scores of burn victims and amputees.

Abdel Karim was in the bathroom when the fire broke out. He survived, but suffered severe burns to his arms. He was taken to a government hospital, where he could see from the window a heavy security presence deployed around the medical facility, blocking relatives and aid agencies from reaching the injured.

Afraid he would be rearrested, Abdel Karim discharged himself and escaped.

A fire victim is treated at a hospital in Aden. (Oromia Human Rights Organization photo)

Despite his injuries, he joined survivors and relatives of the dead outside the UNHCR building in Sanaa to demand international action to hold the perpetrators to account.

They also demanded the names of all those killed, dignified funerals and closure for the families of those still missing.

“UNHCR did not respond to us,” Abdel Karim said in a video, shared with Arab News by the Oromia Human Rights Organization (OHRO).

“Only two days after the protests began, a UNHCR guy came out and told us that they (the agency’s staff) are also refugees like us here, guests who are incapable of doing anything. He told us that since 2016, the refugee file has been in the hands of the Houthis.”

INNUMBERS

550 Migrants in the IPNA hangar before March 7 fire.

6,000 Migrants in detention in mainly Houthi-controlled Yemen.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Undeterred, the crowd refused to leave, camping outside the UNHCR building for several weeks. Then, in the early hours of April 2, Houthi militiamen cordoned off the area, and dispersed the protesters with tear gas and live rounds.

“They hit us, dragged us by force, took our fingerprints and photographed us, before loading some of us into cars and shuttling us to the city of Dhamar, where they abandoned us in the rugged mountainous areas,” said Abdel Karim.

“We knew nothing and no one there. We just kept walking. We had no food, no water and hardly any money. When we stopped at one of the small villages, one of us got a bottle of water, and we passed it on to one another. There was only enough water to wet the tips of our tongues.”

The group eventually made it to Aden two days later. From the UNHCR’s headquarters in the port city, Abdel Karim asked to be taken to hospital to have his burns treated.

According to Arafat Jibril, head of OHRO, only 220 of the 2,000 detainees at the detention facility on the day of the fire made it to Aden. The fate of the others remains unknown.

Arafat Jibril, head of Oromia Human Rights Organization. (Supplied photo)

“African migrants just keep disappearing,” Jibril told Arab News. “The numbers of the forcibly disappeared are on the rise. But we have no means of knowing the exact numbers. This would be the job of international organizations, provided they are given access to secret detention centers, many of which are in Sanaa.”

As a lawyer and activist, Jibril collects eyewitness testimonies from inside Houthi-occupied territories in the form of secret WhatsApp recordings made by determined volunteers compelled to expose the horrors they see committed against African migrants.

Piecing together what happened to the disappeared is proving a challenge. “We know, for example, that 10 women who were taken to hospital are now nowhere to be found,” she said.

Only 220 of the 2,000 detainees at the detention facility on the day of the fire made it to Aden. The fate of the others remains unknown. (Oromia Human Rights Organization photo)

“We know that detentions of African migrants are continuing on a large scale, and that there is a long ‘wanted’ list, including the names of protest ringleaders and those migrants who talked to the press.

“And we know that the Houthis sort the migrants out. They send the young and healthy to war, and position them at the forefront of the trenches so ‘the blacks’ — as the Houthis call the African migrants — would die first. We have heard many accounts like that from those who survived the battles and returned to their families.

“They send African women to the battlefield, too, referring to them as Zaynabiyat (the Houthis’ all-female militia), to do the cooking and other services. At least 180 women and 30 children who had been detained were kidnapped two days before the fire. We also know nothing about them.”

African migrants receive food and water inside a football stadium in the Red Sea port city of Aden in Yemen on April 23, 2019. (AFP)

Few doubt that racism lies at the core of this maltreatment.

“Shortly after the tragic fire, Houthis were bullying the African migrants, hurling racial slurs at them, calling them ‘the grandchildren of Bilal’ — the Ethiopian companion of the Prophet and the first muezzin in Islam — and threatening ‘to burn you one by one like we burned your friends’,” Jibril said.

She fears these examples are just the tip of the iceberg in a largely overlooked tragedy that, despite its increasing severity, has failed to capture the interest of the international community.

The Houthis are well aware that African migrants have no one looking out for their interests.

“No organization to protect them,” said Jibril. “No one. So, the Houthis say, ‘let’s use them’. The only ‘sin’ these migrants committed was that they were born black.”

_____________________

Twitter: @EphremKossaify