Workers clear last train from deadly crash site in Taiwan

Workers clear last train from deadly crash site in Taiwan
Members of the media document a damaged train carriage extracted from a tunnel after the deadly train derailment north of Hualien, Taiwan on April 6, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 April 2021

Workers clear last train from deadly crash site in Taiwan

Workers clear last train from deadly crash site in Taiwan
  • Fifty people died and over 200 were injured in the crash on Friday

TAIPEI: Cabin exposed, with half of its walls and roof gone, workers pulled out the last remaining train car in Taiwan’s worst rail accident in seven decades.
The crash site on the island’s east coast was cleared, barring one car that was moved to the side of the tunnel where the train hit a construction truck that had fallen onto the track. Fifty people died and over 200 were injured in the crash on Friday.
The driver of the truck, Lee Yi-hsiang, who is also the manager of the construction site above the tracks, has been detained on charges of causing death by negligence. He has apologized for the accident and promised to cooperate with investigators.
While an initial report from transport safety officials said the brakes on the truck were not engaged, prosecutors declined to say what caused the vehicle to fall down the slope.
Taiwan’s Minister for Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung said Wednesday that he had offered his formal resignation to the island’s president and premier.
“I want to again express my deepest apologies to all the victims and their family and I will also take the political responsibility after completing all the relief work,” he said at a hearing by members of the transportation committee of the Legislative Assembly. “I will face it fully and meet it bravely.”
The meeting started off with a moment of silence for the victims but quickly turned acrimonious when a group of opposition Nationalist Party politicians held up signs calling for the resignation of the minister and Premier Su Tseng-chang, shouting, “The government is a killer and must step down.”
Members of the committee took turns to raise questions about the crash and rescue. One lawmaker asked Lin why certain safety improvements had not been completed since the last major train crash in 2018, which killed at least 18 people. Among those was an automatic system that would check on the condition of slopes by the railway tracks.
They also raised concern over the slow reform of the indebted Taiwan Railways.


US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats
Updated 15 April 2021

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats
  • The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners"
  • In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States”

WASHINGTON: The United States announced economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.
President Joe Biden ordered a widening of restrictions on US banks trading in Russian government debt, expelled 10 diplomats who include alleged spies, and sanctioned 32 individuals alleged to have tried to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, the White House said.
Biden's executive order "sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international action," the White House said in a statement.
The statement listed in first place Moscow's "efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners."
This referred to allegations that Russian intelligence agencies mounted persistent disinformation and dirty tricks campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, in part to help Donald Trump's candidacy.
The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners," referring to the massive so-called SolarWinds hack of US government computer systems last year.
The statement also called out Russia's extraterritorial "targeting" of dissidents and journalists and undermining of security in countries important to US national security.
In addition, the Department of Treasury, together with the European Union, Australia, Britain and Canada, sanctioned eight individuals and entities associated with Russia's occupation of Crimea in Ukraine.
In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilizing activities."


India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000

India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000
Updated 15 April 2021

India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000

India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000
  • New Delhi announced stay-at-home orders for the weekend, though essential workers will be able to move about if they have a pass from local authorities
  • The surge in cases was weighing on hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and several other states, where many reported a shortage of oxygen tanks

NEW DELHI: India’s two largest cities imposed stringent restrictions on movement and one planned to use hotels and banquet halls to treat coronavirus patients as new infections in the country shot past 200,000 Thursday amid a devastating surge that is straining a fragile health system.
The soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic — and have forced the country to delay exports of vaccines abroad. India is a major producer of COVID-19 shots, and its pivot to focus on domestic demand has weighed heavily on global efforts to end the pandemic.
New Delhi announced stay-at-home orders for the weekend, though essential workers will be able to move about if they have a pass from local authorities. Restaurants, malls, gyms and spas will be shut down. Movie theaters will close on weekends, but can operate on weekdays at a third of their capacity.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s top elected official, said that despite rise in infections, 5,000 hospital beds are still available in the capital and more capacity is being added. But still, more than a dozen hotels and wedding banquet halls were ordered to be converted into COVID-19 centers where doctors from nearby hospitals will treat the moderately ill.
“The surge is alarming,” said S.K. Sarin, a government health expert in New Delhi.
The moves in the capital came after similar measures were imposed in the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital, Mumbai. The bustle of India’s biggest city ebbed after authorities closed most industries, businesses and public places Wednesday night and put limits on the movement of people for 15 days. Train and plane travel was still allowed, however.
In recent days, the city has seen an exodus of panic-stricken day laborers, hauling backpacks and flocking to overcrowded trains.
Dozens of other towns and cities have also imposed nighttime curfews.
The surge in cases was weighing on hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and several other states, where many reported a shortage of oxygen tanks. Imran Sheikh, a resident of the city of Pune in Maharashtra, said he was asked to supply his own oxygen tank for a relative undergoing COVID-19 treatment.
Cremation and burial grounds in the worst-hit areas were finding it difficult to cope with the increasing number of bodies arriving for last rites, according to Indian media reports.
Shahid Jamil, a virologist, said the recent local and state elections with massive political rallies and a major Hindu festival during which hundreds of thousands of devotees bathed in the Ganges river were super-spreader events.
The 200,739 new infections recorded Thursday are about twice the number of daily cases that were recorded during the last peak, in September. The Health Ministry also reported 1,038 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the toll over 173,000.
India’s toll of 14 million cases puts it second behind the United States. It ranks fourth in deaths after the US, Brazil and Mexico — though, with nearly 1.4 billion people, it has a much larger population than any of those countries. Experts say even these figures are likely an undercount.
As it struggles with the caseload, India is ramping up its vaccination drive. The Health Ministry said the total vaccinations crossed 114 million with more than 3 million doses administered on Wednesday.
When infections began plummeting in India in September, many concluded the worst had passed. Masks and social distancing were abandoned. When cases began rising again in February, authorities were left scrambling.


Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal
Updated 15 April 2021

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal
  • NATO says its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan are also departing within a few months

KABUL: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America’s longest-running war.
Blinken was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, and civic figures, a day after Biden announced that the remaining 2,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan would be coming home by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the US invasion.
His trip also came after NATO immediately followed suit, saying its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few months, ending the foreign military presence that had been a fact of life for a generation of Afghans already reeling from more than 40 years of conflict.
Blinken sought to reassure the Afghan leadership that the withdrawal did not mean an end to the US-Afghan relationship.
“I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing to commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” Blinken told Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring.”
“We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani told Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops.
Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the move and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance would also be leaving.
Biden, Blinken, Austin and Stoltenberg have all sought to put a brave face on the pullout, maintaining that the US- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network that launched the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.
However, that argument has faced pushback from some U.S, lawmakers and human rights advocates who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
Later, in a meeting with Abdullah, Blinken repeated his message, saying that “we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together.”
“We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration,” Abdullah said.
Despite billions of US dollars in aid, Afghanistan 20 years on has a poverty rate of 52 percent according to World Bank figures. That means more than half of Afghanistan’s 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.
For many Afghans the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth and loyal militias who are well armed. Many Afghans fear worsening chaos even more once America leaves.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul.
Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, the US was to have completed its military withdrawal by May 1. Although Biden is blowing through that deadline, angering the Taliban leadership, his plan calls for the pull-out to begin on May 1. The NATO withdrawal will commence the same day.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said in his announcement in Washington on Tuesday, but he added that the US will “not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.”
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, vowed that the US would remain committed to Afghanistan’s people and development.
“Bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan or our support for the country,” Blinken said. “Our support, our engagement and our determination remain.”
Austin also said that the US military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, will keep counterterrorism “capabilities” in the region to keep pressure on extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. Asked for details, he declined to elaborate on where those US forces would be positioned or in what numbers.


China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say
Updated 15 April 2021

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say
  • China aims to become "carbon neutral" by 2060
  • China’s state council approved five nuclear projects, which will be developed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC)

BEIJING/SINGAPORE: China approved the construction of five nuclear power units, with total installed capacity of 4.9 GW, roughly 10% of the country’s total, two sources said, as Beijing strives for alternatives to fossil fuel to meet its climate goals.

China needs to speed up its nuclear development to achieve its pledge to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak before 2030 and become “carbon neutral” by 2060.

The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter has lagged behind its previous target of operating 58 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2020, partly as the Fukushima nuclear accident slowed down approvals of new projects.

China’s state council approved five nuclear projects, which will be developed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), at a meeting on Wednesday, one of the two sources familiar with the matter said.

Officials, including those from the National Energy Administration and National Nuclear Safety Bureau, attended the meeting at which the development of the nuclear industry in the country was discussed, four sources said. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

“Nuclear power is a ‘have to do’ choice if China aims to achieve the targets of bringing carbon emission by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060,” an official from the Nuclear Safety Bureau said.

The five reactors approved include four regular nuclear units — number 7 and number 8 at Tianwan nuclear power plant in eastern Jiangsu province, and number 3 and number 4 in Xudapu in northeastern Liaoning province.

All four will use Russian-made VVER-1200 technology and have individual capacity of 1.2 gigawatts (GW), two of the sources said.

The government also approved a small, 125-MW module reactor (SMR) demonstration project at Changjiang nuclear power plant in Hainan province.

In one of the country’s first experiments of small reactors aimed at better economics, CNNC will use its home-grown ACP100 technology.

Construction of three of the five units, the SMR and one each from Tianwan and Xudapu, is expected to start later this year and is scheduled for completion in 2026, one official said.

“They are moving ahead as earlier scheduled,” the official said, adding that means China has re-established its normal pace in advancing new projects.

The State Council and CNNC did not immediately respond to Reuters requests seeking comment.

China is also accelerating the development of an upgraded model of its home-grown third generation nuclear technology, Hualong Two.

China’s Nuclear Energy Association expects the country to have installed or have under construction a total of 200 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2035.


Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide
Updated 15 April 2021

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide
  • Arrest of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan head sparks nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD, KARACHI: The Pakistan government on Wednesday said it had sent a proposal to the federal Cabinet to impose a ban on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) religious party for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life through nationwide protests.

Demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, was arrested on Monday.

Addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that protesters had killed two policemen and injured another 340 during violent attacks on law enforcement forces.

“We have decided to slap a ban on the TLP,” he said. “A file (for the purpose) is being dispatched to the federal Cabinet for formal approval.”

“The police personnel who were kidnapped (by the protesters) have also reached back to their respective police stations,” he said, adding that demonstrators had blocked ambulances and obstructed oxygen supply to the hospitals as a third wave of the coronavirus swept through the country.

The minister also ruled out negotiations with the protesters and said their demands would not be met.

On Sunday, a day before his arrest, TLP chief Rizvi had threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Rizvi had called on the government to honor what he said was a commitment made to his party in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of the Prophet, which enraged Muslims around the world.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan said that it had only committed to debating the matter in parliament.

The interior minister congratulated law enforcement officials for clearing all blocked roads, including motorways, in eight to 10 hours.

“They (the protesters) were well prepared and wanted to reach Islamabad at any cost,” Ahmed said, adding that the government had tried its best to resolve the issue through negotiations, but failed to convince TLP leaders.

“We are banning them not for any political reason, but due to their character,” he said, adding that if the government met the TLP’s demands, it would send the world a signal that Pakistan was an “extremist state.”

Earlier in the day, the interior minister had said while chairing a meeting to review the violence: “The writ of the state must be ensured at any cost.”

Law minister and spokesperson for the Sindh government, Murtaza Waha, said that 254 people had been arrested and detained in the province since Monday.

He told Arab News: “254 have been arrested and detained whereas 15 FIRs (police reports) have been registered.”

Pakistani Taliban come out in support of TLP 

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban came out in support of the TLP protesters, congratulating them for putting up resistance against security forces.

“(We) pay them (the TLP) tribute for their courage and showing the military organizations their place,” the Taliban said in a statement. “We assure them that we will make them (the government) accountable for every drop of the martyrs’ blood,” they added, referring to TLP claims that its supporters had been killed in clashes with authorities.

The Pakistani Taliban, a different entity from the Afghan Taliban and fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government, are an umbrella of the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has broken into many divisions.

Designated a terrorist group by the US, the TTP has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or flee to urban Pakistan.

“We want to remind them (the TLP) that this government and security institutions are always untrustworthy, breachers of promise and liars so they should not be trusted and military effort is the only solution to this problem,” the Taliban statement said.

In a press conference on Tuesday evening, science and technology minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said: “No group or party must even think of dictating to the government or the state . . . If a state allows this, then it will disintegrate and there will be chaos.”

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, TLP told the government: “You will have to expel the French ambassador under all costs . . . The country will remain jammed until the French ambassador is expelled.”

In a separate statement, the TLP said that its protests would continue until Rizvi was released. 

 

ARMED PROTESTERS

On Tuesday, the government of Punjab said that troops of Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) were “required with immediate effect till the request of de-requisition.”

Rangers were deployed in the cities of Rahim Yar Khan, Sheikhupura, Chakwal and Gujranwala, the circular said.

Lahore police spokesperson, Rana Arif, told the daily Dawn newspaper that protesters had beaten a police constable to death in Lahore’s Shahdara area on Tuesday, as a result of which a police case had been registered against TLP leaders and supporters. Police had also registered a case against Rizvi on terrorism and other charges, Arif said.

“Over 300 policemen in Punjab, including 97 in Lahore, had sustained injuries, many of them serious, after violent protesters attacked them with clubs, bricks and firearms,” Dawn reported. “The Gujrat district police officer and Kharian deputy superintendent of police were among the injured.”

“Hundreds of protesters and policemen were injured and thousands of TLP activists and supporters were arrested and booked for attacking law enforcement personnel and blocking main roads and highways,” Dawn added, saying four people, including a policeman, had been killed.

Police said that four policemen had been shot by armed TLP protesters, and the use of firearms by demonstrators had taken law enforcement agencies by surprise.

“In Lahore alone, four policemen were shot at and injured by the armed men of the TLP in the Shahpur Kanjran area. Similarly, two police constables were shot at and injured in Faisalabad,” Dawn reported. It added: “Two video clips from Lahore in this regard showed policemen, Imran and Aslam, being rushed to a hospital with bullet wounds. In another video clip, an on-duty policeman was seen calling for help to dispatch more forces, saying they had come under armed attack by the protesters in Shahpur Kanjran.”

“The TLP armed men opened fire on the police and our four constables were injured,” Lahore DIG (operations) Sajid Kiani told reporters on Tuesday evening.

Under a standing order, he said, unarmed police had been deployed and allowed only to use anti-riot gear against protesters. “But it shocked us that the TLP men used guns against the anti-riot force,” Kiani said.

Giving one example, Kiani said that when police reached Shahpur Kanjran to clear the national highway, announcements were made in nearby mosques urging TLP followers to take on police.

“Within 10 minutes, some 200 people joined those already present and attacked police,” he said, adding that Lahore police had lodged 19 cases against protesters and cleared the areas of Shahdara, Imamia Colony, Thokar Niaz Baig, Babu Sabu and some parts of Ring Road by Tuesday evening.

Police also conducted an operation in the Chungi Amar Sidhu area to rescue Model Town SP (operations) Dost Mohammad Khosa and five other policemen from protesters holding them hostage at a power grid station.

The Shahdara and Thokar areas of Lahore also turned into battlefields after hundreds of TLP supporters took several policemen hostage.

In Shahdara, a constable died from head and chest injuries after protesters tortured him with clubs, police said.

Police said that TLP activists had occupied and blocked 22 main roads, intersections and areas of Lahore, while reports of violence had also come from Faisalabad, Sheikhupura, Rahim Yar Khan, Sahiwal and Gujrat.

Reports from other parts of Punjab suggested TLP supporters had occupied more than 100 points, roads and major intersections of various cities of the province.

More than 1,400 activists of the TLP have been arrested across Punjab, a Punjab police spokesperson told Dawn, saying police had launched major operations, cleared nearly 60 roads and areas, and registered multiple police cases against supporters, representatives and leaders of the TLP.

Speaking to Arab News, Muhammad Ali, a TLP spokesperson in Karachi, said that at least six workers of the party had died and a large number were wounded after being fired on by law enforcement agencies. Hospital and rescue sources only confirmed two deaths.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the TLP said seven of its supporters had been killed by police, but the figures could not be independently verified.

HISTORY OF PROTESTS 

Saad Rizvi became the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November last year after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.

Tehreek-e-Labiak and other religious parties have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as freedom of expression.

Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures. That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe the depictions are blasphemous.

Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.