6.6-magnitude quake hits off west coast of Cyprus: USGS

A panoramic view of Protaras, Cyprus. (Shutterstock)
A panoramic view of Protaras, Cyprus. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 11 January 2022

6.6-magnitude quake hits off west coast of Cyprus: USGS

6.6-magnitude quake hits off west coast of Cyprus: USGS
  • Temblor felt as far away as Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Lebanon
  • In 1953, a 6.3-magnitude quake killed 40 people and destroyed hundreds of homes in Cyprus

NICOSIA: A 6.6-magnitude quake hit off the west coast of Cyprus early Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
The strong and relatively shallow quake that struck at 0107 GMT was centered 48 kilometers (30 miles) west-northwest of the town of Polis on the Mediterranean island, the USGS said.
The tremor was felt across Cyprus and around the region with reports from as far away as Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, according to the USGS.

But there was a low likelihood of casualties and damage from the quake, it said in a preliminary assessment.
The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center measured the tremor at 6.5 magnitude at a depth of 51 km.
Cyprus lies in a secondary earthquake-prone zone, but tremors of such magnitude are uncommon.
The biggest quake in recent years was a magnitude 6.8 in 1996, which killed two people in Paphos along the west coast.
In 1953, a 6.3-magnitude quake killed 40 people and destroyed hundreds of homes, mostly in the Paphos region.
 


Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest

Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest
Updated 13 sec ago

Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest

Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest
  • Some farmers are harvesting grain early for fear of losing all their 2022 production to fires

TUNIS: A heatwave and fires are badly damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest, leading the farmers union to forecast that output will fall well short of government hopes.

Loss of grain production comes as the North African country struggles with food importation costs driven higher by the war in Ukraine.

Agriculture Minister Mhamoud Elyess Hamza this month forecast the 2022 grain harvest would reach 1.8 million tons, up 10 percent on last year’s.

But farmers union official Mohamed Rejaibia, pointing to fires that began raging over much of the country last month, said that was no longer possible.

“The grain harvest will not be more than 1.4 million tons,” said Rejaibia, a member of the union’s executive office. “Some of it will be lost to fires and some perhaps during collection.”

The union and experts say the crop also is suffering direct damage from high temperatures, which have already reached 47 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) this summer and are forecast to go as high as 49 Celsius. Moreover, the heatwave could hinder agricultural workers in collecting the harvest.

Tunisia has been counting on a big crop to reduce grain imports amid a national financial crisis that is exacerbated by the war. Higher prices of imported food and energy will cost the budget $1.7 billion this year, says the government, which subsidises such supplies.

The country has aimed for self-sufficiency this year in production of durum wheat, the main grain that it produces.

Some farmers are harvesting grain early, accepting smaller crops for fear of losing all their 2022 production to fires.

“Usually we begin the harvest season in July, but this year we started on June 18,” said farmer Abderraouf Arfaoui in Krib, a northern town. “We are afraid of fires. We must watch our land day and night.”

“We must harvest without waiting, even if that reduces the quantity and quality of the wheat, and when we finish the harvest we must watch our haystacks, too.”

President Kais Saied said this month that the grain crop this year would be a target for criminal gangs, which particularly planned to steal product of good quality.

Protecting the crop was a matter of national security, he said.


Violence at Spanish enclave sparks fear of worse to come

Violence at Spanish enclave sparks fear of worse to come
Updated 6 min 32 sec ago

Violence at Spanish enclave sparks fear of worse to come

Violence at Spanish enclave sparks fear of worse to come

NADOR, Morocco: A massive attempt by migrants to storm the barrier between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla resulted in “unprecedented violence” that killed at least 23 sub-Saharan Africans and has sparked fears of worse to come.

“It was like a war, we were holding rocks, little rocks, to fight,” said a 20-year-old Sudanese migrant at a detention center inside Melilla.

“I climbed up the fence but a Moroccan guard hit my hands. I fell unconscious on the Spanish side, where I was beaten up by Spanish forces,” said another.

They were among 2,000 migrants who on Friday stormed the heavily fortified border between the Moroccan region of Nador and the enclave of Melilla.

At least 23 migrants died and 140 police officers were wounded, according to Moroccan authorities — the heaviest toll in years of such attempts.

Many of the migrants, often from war-torn zones such as Sudan’s Darfur region, have spent months or even years under precarious, dangerous conditions in the nearby forest of Gourougou, braving beatings and arrests in multiple attempts to reach better lives in Spain.

But observers said the latest attempt was unprecedented in the level of violence.

“It’s the first time that we see this level of violence by migrants themselves against security forces,” said Omar Naji from the Nador office of the AMDH rights group.

The violence has heightened fears among Moroccans in the area.

“We’re terrorized by what happened,” said Issame Ouaaid, 24, from the border district of Barrio Chino.

“It’s the first time that we’ve seen migrants carrying iron rods to fight with the police.”

Naji linked the level of violence to a recent mending of ties between Spain and Morocco, leading to renewed cooperation against migrants and stricter enforcement.

Morocco, the only African country sharing a land border with the EU, is a key conduit for migrants fleeing war and poverty.

But the kingdom has also been accused — by Spain — of using migration flows as a tool to exert political pressure.

In May 2021, some 10,000 migrants surged across the border into Spain’s other enclave, Ceuta, as Moroccan border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat in a political row over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The two countries’ resumption of ties earlier this year after a convergence on Western Sahara has led to “an intensification of pressures” against migrants living rough in the forested hills near the border, Naji said.

Recent months have seen a fall in the numbers of migrants reaching Spanish territory, according to Madrid.

“The Moroccan authorities treat migrants very harshly, raiding their camps,” Naji said.

“There’s no doubt that this pressure has generated the unprecedented violence we’re seeing.”

Before Friday’s incident, Spanish media reported several clashes between migrants and security forces, who had chased away residents of camps and transferred some away from the border region.

For Othmane Ba, president of an association for sub-Saharan African migrants in Morocco, “the difficult conditions these migrants are facing condition them psychologically for violence.”

A majority of migrants arriving in Morocco are originally from Sudan, particularly the Darfur region where a new spike in violence has left 125 people dead and 50,000 displaced.

On their way to Morocco, many pass through Libya, notorious for rights abuses by armed groups against migrants.

Once they arrive in Morocco, many are willing to risk their lives to reach Europe.

“There are people here who have been waiting for two or three years” to get across, Naji said.

Moroccan authorities said Sunday they had foiled a plot by migrants to cross the border into Ceuta, making 59 arrests.

But, Naji said, “Morocco can’t totally close its borders and play the role of police force for Europe. That policy can only lead to more violence.”


Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government
Updated 15 min 16 sec ago

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government
  • If the proposed government fails to receive Aoun’s approval, then Lebanon will face fresh political gridlock

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has held an initial round of nonbinding parliamentary consultations to discuss the formation of the country’s new government.

After the end of the consultations on June 28, Mikati is expected to submit a draft government to President Michel Aoun. The mission of the new government will be defined in a brief ministerial statement, including the urgent issues that could be accomplished in the few remaining months of Aoun’s presidency, which ends on Oct. 31.

If the proposed government fails to receive Aoun’s approval, then Lebanon will face fresh political gridlock.

That scenario could further damage the country’s ability to tackle urgent issues, “because we are running out of time and crises are succeeding one another, and are getting magnified,” one political observer said.

They warned that if Aoun blocks the proposal, “it means that the term of the new government will not exceed two months.

“If we take into consideration that drafting the ministerial statement, approving it and submitting it to the parliament for the government to gain the confidence vote, then this means that the government term will be of two months and would not be expected to resolve the crises or start the necessary 27 administrative and financial reforms determined by the International Monetary Fund.”

The Development and Liberation bloc headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for “forming the government as soon as possible.”

After the bloc met Mikati, lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil said: “We stressed the necessity of approving the financial recovery plan — which has not yet been referred to Parliament according to the constitutional procedures — while preserving the depositors’ credits in full.”

Berri’s bloc stressed the “necessity of resolving the issue of the electricity plants away from the debates that have been taking place lately, and of restructuring this sector.”

Khalil said: “We did not propose the form of the government because Mikati is aware of the current balances of power, and what concerns us is that the government be efficient.”

After meeting with Mikati, Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab said that he is “keen on forming the government fast in collaboration with President Aoun.”

Bou Saab, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement bloc, a Hezbollah ally, stressed the need to “form a government of political representation,” and called on the new government “to communicate with the Syrian government to resolve the crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

The new government must repatriate Syrian refugees and revive the Kuwaiti initiative to rehabilitate Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf countries, he added.

The Lebanese Forces bloc said: “The Lebanese Forces will not participate in the new government.”

Lawmaker Georges Adwan said: “We want a government that recuperates the state’s decision and that rehabilitates Lebanon’s relations with other countries.”

Adwan called on Parliament to “elect a new president of the republic as soon as possible.”

The Democratic Gathering bloc, which represents the Progressive Socialist Party, declared that it would not feature in the new government. However, Taymur Jumblatt, president of the bloc, said: “We will help in forming it.”

President of the Hezbollah bloc, lawmaker Mohammed Raad, said: “We are not against the participation of anybody in the government, and we tender our hand to everybody.”

Before the parliamentary consultations began, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassim called for amendments to be made to the standing caretaker government “in order not to waste time and exhaust the formation of the government with conditions and counter-conditions.”

He said: “Let anybody who wants to participate in the government to do so and cooperate, or let the prime minister-designate change some ministers in order not to fall into the trap of new names, which might take a long time.”

In Sunday’s sermon, Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he opposed the Christian blocs’ refusal to nominate a leader of the new government during compulsory consultations last week. He called on political parties to cooperate with Mikati “away from conditions that are not adequate for this crucial period, nor for the time available to them.”

He urged the need to “form a national government fast, and focus on preparing for the election of a rescue president to save the country, for any delay would only be explained by the desire to distract us from this constitutional duty.”

The two biggest Christian parties in Lebanon, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, did not nominate Mikati to head the new government. Political observers fear that Aoun’s party, the FPM, will try to impose strict conditions on the formation of a new government.

After meeting with Mikati, reform lawmakers declared that they will not take part in the new government. Lawmaker Halime El-Kaakour said: “We will not participate in any quota government. We demanded a small government of independents with exceptional prerogatives.”

Independent lawmaker Abdul Rahman Bizri said: “We might be heading towards a minority parliamentary government,” adding: “As independent political powers, we had remarks on the performance of the previous governments, especially the ones that were headed by Mikati.

“Had these government made achievements we would not have reached this point. We will not obstruct, and our dealing with Mikati will be based on his handling of hot issues.”

Meanwhile, employees of the Banque Du Liban declared a warning strike for one day on Tuesday in protest against legislative prosecutions and accusations by the prosecutor general of Mount Lebanon, judge Ghada Aoun, against BDL and its employees.

The BDL syndicate threatened open strikes that would paralyze Lebanon’s banking sector, unless the Supreme Judicial Council and the minister of justice intervene to put an end to the actions of the judge.


12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
Updated 2 min 45 sec ago

12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

12 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
  • Canister with 25 tons of chlorine plunges from crane
  • Workers flee for lives from deadly clouds

AMMAN: At least 12 people died and more than 250 were injured on Monday when a tank of toxic chlorine gas plunged from a crane and exploded at Aqaba port in Jordan.

Eight of the casualties were Jordanian, with the other four coming from other nations.

The force of the blast sent a truck rolling down the harborside, while clouds of yellow gas billowed overhead and dock workers ran for their lives.

Nearby areas were evacuated and residents told to close and seal doors and windows and to avoid going out.

Public Security Department spokesman Amer Sartawy said “specialists and the hazardous substances team in the civil defense” were dealing with the incident.

Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh and Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya immediately headed to the scene, visited a hospital where some of the injured were being treated, and formed an investigation team into the incident.

The accident happened when a tank filled with 25 tons of chlorine gas being exported to Djibouti fell while being transported. Video footage showed showed a crane hoisting the tank from a truck, and then the tank falling on to the deck of a ship and exploding.

The injured were transported to two state hospitals, one private facility and a field hospital.

Aqaba health director Jamal Obeidat said hospitals in the area were full and could not receive more cases. “The injured people are in medium to critical condition,” he said.

Aqaba port is the Jordan’s only marine terminal and a key transit point for much of its imports and exports. Its beaches are also a major tourist attraction, and were evacuated after Monday’s incident.

Dr. Mhammed Al-Tarawneh, a chest diseases consultant, said chlorine gas was extremely toxic, and the leakcould significantly affect areas surrounding the explosion.

He said contact with this gas could cause irritation of the mucous membranes and a red skin rash. Inhaling the gas could cause pneumonia, burning in the esophagus, diarrhea, headaches, vision impairment, and loss of consciousness.

The US offered its condolences to the families of the victims of the blast. “We stand ready to support the government of Jordan as it responds to this tragedy,” US Ambassador Henry Wooster said. “I urge all US citizens in Aqaba to follow all public health guidance.”

The secretary-general of the GCC, Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, also expressed his condolences. “The GCC stands with the government and the Jordanian people in these difficult moments,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
Updated 27 June 2022

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
  • The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt,

CAIRO: A delegation from the Saudi National Real Estate Committee has held talks with the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones in Egypt on how to boost investment cooperation between the two countries.

The talks were led by Mohamed Abdullah Abdel Aziz Al-Murshed, who chairs the Saudi committee, and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, CEO of the Egyptian investment authority. Also present were Tariq Shukri, who chairs Egypt’s real estate development chamber, and representatives of 27 leading Saudi companies in the fields of real estate development, industry, agriculture and building materials.

The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt, on the sidelines of which 14 investment agreements were signed between the two nations, according to a press release.

Abdel-Wahab stressed the “importance of strengthening investment relations between the two countries, especially in light of what the current period is witnessing in providing unprecedented support to the private sector, and encouraging Arab and foreign companies to pump more investment into the Egyptian market, including the construction sector.”

He said the sector was “one of the main pillars of the national projects being implemented, such as the Suez Canal axis, and fourth generation cities such as the Administrative Capital, New Alamein and others, which aim to create smart cities based on electronic services and renewable energy, in addition to implementing a huge network of roads and bridges to connect national projects and new cities.”

The meeting looked at ways to enhance cooperation by exploiting the competitive advantages of Egypt as a destination for investment in the region, and reviewing the investment opportunities available.

It also highlighted the importance of strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries.

Abdel-Wahab said the investment authority was keen to attract more Saudi investment in Egypt by intensifying communication with major companies and introducing the Saudi business community to the latest developments there.