German state Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets over virus

German state Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets over virus
People queue at a vaccination bus that is parked in the small village of Unterschleissheim near Munich on Thursday amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 19 November 2021

German state Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets over virus

German state Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets over virus
  • "The situation is very, very serious and difficult," state premier Markus Soeder told a news conference
  • Bavaria had a weekly incidence rate of 625.3 recorded infections per 100,000 people on Friday

MUNICH: The German state of Bavaria on Friday canceled all of its popular Christmas markets this year due to a surge in coronavirus infections as part of broader restrictions to fight the pandemic.
“The situation is very, very serious and difficult,” state premier Markus Soeder told a news conference at which he also announced a shutdown of clubs, bars and night service at restaurants to tame the fourth wave of the outbreak.
Bavaria had a weekly incidence rate of 625.3 recorded infections per 100,000 people on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease center, well above the nationwide figure of 340.7 — an all-time high for the country.
“We have a clear goal: fighting corona, protecting people and protecting the health care system,” Soeder said.
The Bavarian state capital of Munich on Tuesday had become the first major German city to cancel its upcoming Christmas market, which usually draws some three million visitors, due to a “dramatic” coronavirus resurgence.
Other smaller markets had followed suit but Soeder’s announcement reflects the increasingly drastic state of the virus’s spread, particularly in the south and east of the country.
In addition to the new nightlife restrictions, sport and culture venues will be subject to a 25-percent capacity limit and retail outlets will have to restrict customer flows, Soeder said.
Parts of Bavaria with incidence rates above 1,000 — eight districts on Friday — will face even stricter curbs with only daycare facilities, schools and shops allowed to continue operations until at least mid-December.
Germany hosts some 2,500 Christmas markets each year, cherished by visitors who come to savour mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, and shop for seasonal trinkets among clusters of wooden chalets.
In pre-pandemic times, they drew about 160 million domestic and international visitors annually who brought in revenues of three to five billion euros, according to the BSM stallkeepers’ industry association.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed Thursday to shut the unvaccinated out of restaurants, sporting events and cultural shows after new cases soared to an all-time daily high of more than 65,000.
However the director of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, told reporters Friday that with the exponential rise in infection levels, the curbs would be insufficient to contain the latest surge.


Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs

Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs
Updated 01 October 2022

Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs

Ian lashes South Carolina as Florida’s death toll climbs
  • Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both of its coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power

CHARLESTON: A revived Hurricane Ian pounded coastal South Carolina on Friday, ripping apart piers and flooding streets after the ferocious storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and leaving at least 27 people dead.
The powerful storm, estimated to be one of the costliest hurricanes ever to hit the US, has terrorized people for much of the week — pummeling western Cuba and raking across Florida before gathering strength in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean to curve back and strike South Carolina.
While Ian’s center came ashore near Georgetown, South Carolina, on Friday with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier in the week, the storm left many areas of Charleston’s downtown peninsula under water. It also washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two at Myrtle Beach.
Online cameras showed seawater filling neighborhoods in Garden City to calf level. As Ian moved across South Carolina on its way to North Carolina Friday evening, it dropped from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone.
Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas on both of its coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2 million people without power.
Even though the storm system has long passed over Florida, new issues were still presenting themselves Friday night. A 14-mile (22-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 75 was closed in both directions in the Port Charlotte area because of the amount of water in the Myakka River.
Many of the deaths were drownings, including that of a 68-year-old woman swept away into the ocean by a wave. A 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued died after falling into rising water inside his home, authorities said.
Other storm-related fatalities included a 22-year-old woman who died after an ATV rollover from a road washout and a 71-year-old man who fell off a roof while putting up rain shutters. An 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who relied on oxygen machines also died after the equipment stopped working during power outages.
Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week as the storm churned northward. The death toll was expected to increase substantially once emergency officials have an opportunity to search many of the hardest-hit areas.
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through riverine streets in Florida after the storm to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings .
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews had gone door-to-door to over 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.
“There’s really been a Herculean effort,” he said during a news conference in Tallahassee.
Hurricane Ian has likely caused “well over $100 billion’’ in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Company, which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in US history.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said first responders have focused so far on “hasty” searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which will be followed by two additional waves of searches. Initial responders who come across possible remains are leaving them without confirming, he said Friday, describing as an example the case of a submerged home.
“The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many,” Guthrie said.
Desperate to locate and rescue their loved ones, social media users shared phone numbers, addresses and photos of their family members and friends online for anyone who can check on them.
Orlando residents returned to flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water in their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez dropped off ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the road looked like a lake. He had no power or food at his house, and his car was trapped by the water.
“There’s water everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The situation here is pretty bad.”
The devastating storm surge destroyed many older homes on the barrier island of Sanibel, Florida, and gouged crevices into its sand dunes. Taller condominium buildings were intact but with the bottom floor blown out. Trees and utility poles were strewn everywhere.
Municipal rescuers, private teams and the Coast Guard used boats and helicopters Friday to evacuate residents who stayed for the storm and then were cut off from the mainland when a causeway collapsed. Volunteers who went to the island on personal watercraft helped escort an elderly couple to an area where Coast Guard rescuers took them aboard a helicopter.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. Ian made landfall in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). When it hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (240 kph).
After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street. He noted the damage could have been much worse.
“If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty jarring.”
Ian’s heavy rains and winds crossed into North Carolina on Friday evening. Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to be vigilant, given that up to 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas.
“Hurricane Ian is at our door. Expect drenching rain and sustained heavy winds over most of our state,” Cooper said. “Our message today is simple: Be smart and be safe.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was directing “every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors.”
“It’s going to take months, years to rebuild,” Biden said.
“I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”


Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol
Updated 01 October 2022

Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol
  • Ihor Murashov was detained on his way from Europe’s largest nuclear plant to the town of Enerhodar
KYIV: The director general of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was detained by a Russian patrol, Energoatom, the state-owned company in charge of the plant, said on Saturday.
Ihor Murashov was detained on his way from Europe’s largest nuclear plant to the town of Enerhodar around 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Friday, company chief Petro Kotin said in a statement.
“He was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded he was driven in an unknown direction,” Kotin wrote on the Telegram messaging app, adding there was no immediate word on Murashov’s fate.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been a focal point of Russia’s seven-month invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv accuse each other of shelling the facility, risking a nuclear disaster.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for area around the plant, which is staffed by Ukrainians, to be demilitarized.
Murashov “bears main and exclusive responsibility for the nuclear and radiation safety” of the plant and his detention “jeopardizes the safety of operation of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Kotin said.
He called on Russian forces to “stop immediately the acts of nuclear terrorism toward the management and personnel” of the plant and release Murashov.

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week
Updated 01 October 2022

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week
  • South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region
  • Missile tests this week bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea

SEOUL: North Korea on Saturday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles, its neighbors said, the fourth round this week of weapons launches that prompted quick, strong condemnation from its rivals.
In an unusually strong rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons is deepening the suffering of its own people, and warned of an “overwhelming response” from South Korean and US militaries should such weapons be used.
“North Korea hasn’t abandoned its obsession with nukes and missiles despite the persistent international objection in the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the military headquarters in central South Korea. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of North Korean people in further pains.”
“If North Korea attempts to use nukes, it’ll face a resolute, overwhelming response by the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” Yoon said.
Yoon’s comments could enrage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who in July alleged that Yoon’s government was led by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” Kim has also rebuffed Yoon’s offers of massive assistance in return for denuclearization.
The North’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent naval drills between South Korea and the United States and their other training that involved Japan. North Korea views such military exercises by the allies as an invasion rehearsal and argues they reveal US and South Korean “double standards” because they brand the North’s weapons tests as provocation.
On Saturday, South Korea, Japanese and US militaries said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles flew about 350-400 kilometers (220-250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30-50 kilometers (20-30 miles) before they landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s vice defense minister, said the missiles showed “irregular” trajectory.
Some observers say the weapons’ reported low and “irregular” trajectory suggest they were likely nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed the Iskander-like weapon to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
The five other ballistic missiles fired by North Korea on three occasions this week show similar trajectories to the ones detected Saturday.
“The repeated ballistic missile firings by North Korea are a grave provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Ino called the launches “absolutely impermissible,” adding that four rounds of missile testing by North Korea in a week is “unprecedented.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
On Friday, South Korea, the United States and Japan held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. Earlier this week, South Korean and US warships conducted bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military drills this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
The North Korean missile tests this week also bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit Thursday to South Korea, where she reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.
Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North last month adopted a new law authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalatory nuclear doctrine.
During his speech Saturday, Yoon said the North Korean law threatens South Korea’s national existence and that Seoul will expand military exercises with Washington and bolster South Korea’s own missile strike and surveillance capacities in response.
South Korean officials have typically avoided harsh rhetoric on North Korea to prevent an escalation of animosities. But Yoon’s Defense Ministry has recently warned North Korea would self-destruct if it uses its nuclear weapons
This year, North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests in what experts call an attempt to expand its weapons arsenal amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. South Korean and US officials say North Korea has also completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test, which would be the seventh of its kind and the first in five years.
Experts say Kim Jong Un eventually wants to use the enlarged nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and others accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state, a recognition he views as necessary to win the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.
Multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices. The country’s missile launches this year are seen as exploiting a divide at the UN council over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US-China competitions.
“North Korea’s frequent short-range missile tests may strain the isolated state’s resources. But because of deadlock on the UN Security Council, they are a low-cost way for the Kim regime to signal its displeasure with Washington and Seoul’s defense exercises while playing the domestic politics of countering an external threat,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.


Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths

Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths
Updated 01 October 2022

Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths

Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths
  • The East Indonesia Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians
  • Some of the victims were killed by beheading by the group, known by its Indonesian acronym MIT, an affiliate of the Daesh group

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism police have killed a militant who was the last remaining member of an organization that pledged allegiance to Daesh, police said Friday.
Police said Al Ikhwarisman, also known as Jaid, was a key member of the East Indonesia Mujahideen network.
The East Indonesia Mujahideen, known by the Indonesian acronym MIT, has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians, some by beheading, and has pledged allegiance to the Daesh group.
Provincial police chief Rudy Sufahriadi said Jaid conducted at least 10 of the group’s executions, including the killing of four Christian farmers in May 2021. He was killed by the Densus 88 counterterrorism unit in a shootout late Thursday in mountainous Kawende village in Poso district, an extremist hotbed in Central Sulawesi province, Sufahriadi said.
Thursday’s shootout occurred four months after security forces killed the other remaining member of MIT in a jungle shootout, police said.
“He was the last remaining suspected member of the group,” Sufahriadi said. “We have managed to eliminate a dangerous militant group that has disturbed peace in Poso.”
Security operations in Central Sulawesi were intensified last year to capture MIT members, particularly Ali Kalora, the group’s leader and Indonesia’s most wanted militant. Kalora was killed in a shootout in July 2021, two months after the group killed the four Christians in Kalemago village, including one who was beheaded.
Authorities said the attack was in revenge for the killing in March 2021 of two militants, including the son of the group’s former leader, Abu Wardah Santoso.
Santoso, Kalora’s predecessor, was killed by security forces in July 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members of the group who escaped to remote mountain jungles of Poso have since been killed or captured.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has conducted a crackdown on militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly Western and Asian tourists.
Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces, and people militants consider to be infidels, inspired by Daesh group tactics abroad.

 


Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv

Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv
Updated 01 October 2022

Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv

Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv
  • As G7 host next year, Japan pledges to propose further sanctions against Russia and reconstruction plan for Ukraine

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in telephone call Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, condemned Russia’s new annexation of parts of Ukraine as illegal and a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“I told him that the process that Russia called a referendum and its annexation of parts of Ukraine should never be accepted, and that I strongly condemn them,” Kishida said afterward.
Kishida said he also reassured Zelensky in their 30-minute conversation that Japan is committed to working with other Group of Seven nations and the broader international community in further supporting Ukraine, and plans to impose more sanctions against Russia.
Western leaders including US President Joe Biden have also condemned Russia’s annexation of four occupied Ukrainian regions days after voters supposedly approved Moscow-managed “referendums” on joining Russia.

Kishida, who is to host a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations next year, told Zelensky he plans to propose that they impose tough sanctions against Russia, and will lead a discussion on Ukraine’s reconstruction.
He said Japan is assessing when it can reopen its embassy in Kyiv, which he described as important for close contacts between Japan and Ukraine. Japan closed its embassy in March as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensified and moved part of its operations to Lviv in western Ukraine.
Japan has closely cooperated with other G-7 members and European nations in imposing sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine. Most recently, Japan banned exports of sensitive materials that could be used to make chemical weapons.
Japan’s sanctions against Russia have further damaged their ties, already strained over a group of islands taken by Moscow at the end of World War II that have prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their war hostilities.
In retaliation for Tokyo’s sanctions, Moscow terminated peace talks, including negotiations over the islands.