New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga
HMNZS Aotearoa departs to provide disaster relief and assistance to Tonga after a volcanic eruption and tsunami on Jan. 18, 2022. (New Zealand Defense Force via Reuters)
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Updated 19 January 2022

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga
  • Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed
  • Tonga is one of the few countries that is COVID-19 free and an outbreak there would disastrous

Two New Zealand navy vessels will arrive in Tonga on Friday, carrying much-needed water and other supplies for the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami, and largely cut off from the outside world.
Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed, and at least three people were killed after Saturday’s huge eruption triggered tsunami waves, which rolled over the islands causing what the government has called an unprecedented disaster.
With its airport smothered under a layer of volcanic ash and communications badly hampered by the severing of an undersea cable, information on the scale of the devastation has mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.
“For the people of Tonga, we’re heading their way now with a whole lot of water,” Simon Griffiths, captain of the HMNZS Aotearoa, said in a release.
Griffiths said his ship was carrying 250,000 liters of water, and had the capacity to produce another 70,000 liters a day, along with other supplies.
New Zealand’s foreign ministry said the Tongan government has approved the arrival of Aotearoa and the HMNZS Wellington in the COVID-free nation, where concerns about a potential coronavirus outbreak are likely to complicate relief efforts.
Tonga has said its water supplies have been contaminated by ash from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which erupted with a blast heard 2,300 kilometers away in New Zealand. It also sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean.
James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the force of the eruption was estimated to be equivalent to five to 10 megatons of TNT, an explosive force more than 500 times the nuclear bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War Two.
The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga were distributing drinking water across the islands where salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were “polluting the clean drinking water sources of tens of thousands of people.”
Other countries and agencies including the United Nations are drawing up plans to send aid.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said it would send help, including water and food, when the archipelago’s main Fua’amotu International Airport reopens. It was not damaged but was covered in ash, which is being cleared manually,
“We thought that it would be operational yesterday, but it hasn’t been fully cleared yet because more ash has been falling,” Fiji-based UN co-ordinator Jonathan Veitch said on Wednesday.
Pacific neighbor Fiji will send defense engineers on Australia’s HMAS Adelaide, which is due to set sail from Brisbane for Tonga on Friday, a Fiji military spokesman told a briefing in Suva.
A second New Zealand Defense P3 Orion surveillance flight will fly over Tonga on Wednesday to assess damage, the foreign ministry said.
Waves reaching up to 15 meters hit the outer Ha’apia island group, destroying all of the houses on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister’s office said.
On the west coast of Tongatapu, residents were being moved to evacuation centers as 56 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged on that coast.
New Zealand said power has now been restored, and clean-up and damage assessments were going on and Tongan authorities were distributing relief supplies.
Australia and New Zealand have promised immediate financial assistance. The US Agency for International Development approved $100,000 in immediate assistance to support people affected by volcanic eruptions and tsunami waves.
Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni has met the heads of diplomatic missions to discuss aid, the office said.
Tonga is still largely offline after the volcano severed the sole undersea fiber-optics communication cable.
International mobile phone network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on Tongatapu using the University of South Pacific’s satellite dish, the New Zealand foreign ministry said.
That would allow a 2G connection to be established but the connection is patchy and amounts to about 10 percent of usual capacity,
US cable company SubCom has advised it will take at least four weeks for Tonga’s cable be repaired, it added.
Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated with grey ash.
Aid agencies, including the United Nations, are preparing to get relief supplies to Tonga at a distance to avoid introducing the coronavirus, Veitch said.
Tonga is one of the few countries that is COVID-19 free and an outbreak there would disastrous, he said.
“We believe that we will be able to send flights with supplies. We’re not sure that we can send flights with personnel and the reason for this is that Tonga has a very strict COVID-free policy,” Veitch told a briefing.
“They’ve been very cautious about opening their borders like many Pacific islands, and that’s because of the history of disease outbreaks in the Pacific which has wiped out societies here.”


Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
Updated 1 min 51 sec ago

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
  • Last week brought Pyongyang’s first acknowledgment of an ‘explosive’ outbreak
  • Kim: Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way
SEOUL: Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered North Korea’s military to stabilize distribution of COVID-19 medicines in the capital, Pyongyang, in the battle on the country’s first confirmed outbreak of the disease, state media said.
Last week brought the North’s first acknowledgment of an “explosive” outbreak, with experts warning it could wreak devastation in a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine program.
Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way, Kim told an emergency politburo meeting on Sunday, before visiting pharmacies near the capital’s Taedong River, state news agency KCNA said.
Kim ordered immediate deployment of the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps to “stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City,” it added.
Although authorities had ordered distribution of national reserves of medicine, pharmacies were not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, Kim added, the agency said.
Among their shortcomings were a lack of adequate drug storage other than showcases, while salespeople were not equipped with the proper sanitary clothing and hygiene in their surroundings fell short of standards, the leader said.
He criticized the “irresponsible” work attitude, organization and execution by the cabinet and the public health sector, it added.
Neighbouring South Korea will spare no effort to help the North fight its outbreak, President Yoon Suk-yeol told parliament on Monday, saying it was ready to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support if Pyongyang agrees.
Seoul’s unification ministry, reponsible for relations between the neighbors, said it would soon propose a plan of support to the North.
North Korea’s tally of the fever-stricken stood at 1,213,550, with 50 deaths by Sunday, after KCNA reported 392,920 more cases of fever, and eight more deaths. It did not say how many suspected infections had tested positive for COVID-19.
The North has blamed a large number of the deaths on people who were “careless in taking drugs” because of a lack of knowledge about the omicron variant of coronavirus and its correct treatment.

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
Updated 16 May 2022

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
  • Kahane Chai was designated a terrorist organization in 1997
  • Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago also removed from list

WASHINGTON: The United States will remove a Jewish extremist group linked to late rabbi Meir Kahane as well as a Palestinian militant group from a terror blacklist after years without violence, an official said Sunday.
The State Department designated Kahane Chai as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, three years after its supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
The group was founded by Kahane, a US-born rabbi and former Israeli MP who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and was assassinated in New York in 1990.
The State Department informed Congress it will withdraw the designation, which was contested in court by the group, as Kahane Chai “has not been linked to a terrorist attack since 2005,” an official said.


ALSO READ:  Preachers of Hate: Meir Kahane


The official said the State Department was also delisting the Mujahidin Shoura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago.
Revoking the designations “ensures our terrorism sanctions remain current and credible and does not reflect any change in policy toward the past activities of any of these the organizations,” the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
Despite the lack of attacks by Kahane Chai group, the late rabbi remains a hero for some on the extreme right of Israeli politics, including member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir who has advocated annexing the West Bank and hung a portrait of Goldstein in his home.
Designation as a foreign terrorist organization severely limits activities in the United States, including criminalizing financial support.
The State Department said it was still keeping the two groups on the less potent Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, which helps support law enforcement activities.
 


In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
Updated 16 May 2022

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
  • Most of those inside the church were senior citizens of Taiwanese descent, says official
  • The violence came a day after  a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York

LAGUNA WOODS, California: One person was killed and four others were critically wounded in a shooting Sunday afternoon at a Presbyterian church in a suburban Southern California community where the majority of residents are seniors, officials said. 

Police said churchgoers managed to subdue the gunman and hog-tied his legs with an electrical cord.

Police responded to the incident that unfolded at about 1:30 p.m. local time (2039 GMT) at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods and arrested an unidentified suspect in his 60s, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told a news conference.
“That group of churchgoers displayed ... exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” he said.
A fifth injured person suffered minor injuries, officials said. All the victims were adults.
It wasn’t immediately clear where inside the church the shooting happened.
About 30 people witnessed the violence, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff’s spokesperson. The majority of those inside the church are believed to be of Taiwanese descent, Braun said.
Investigators were looking at many factors, including whether the bloodshed could be a hate crime and whether the gunman was known to the church community, she said.
More details were expected from a sheriff’s department news conference scheduled for 5 p.m.
Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the scene. The FBI was also sending agents to the scene to assist the sheriff.
Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80 percent of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation.
“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the tweet said.
The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.
On its website, Geneva Presbyterian Church describes its mission as “to remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble.”
“All are welcome here. Really, we mean that! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation worshipping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.”
The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said US Rep Katie Porter, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

 


Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
Updated 16 May 2022

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
  • Hassan Sheikh Mohamud served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017,
  • Mohamud succeeds Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose mandate expired in February 2021

MOGADISHU, Somalia: A former Somali president voted out of power in 2017 has been returned to the nation’s top office after defeating the incumbent leader in a protracted contest decided by legislators in a third round of voting late Sunday.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017, won the contest in the capital, Mogadishu, amid a security lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent deadly militant attacks.
The first round of voting was contested by 36 aspirants, four of whom proceeded to the second round. With no candidate winning at least two-thirds of the 328 ballots, voting then went into a third round where a simple majority was enough to pick the winner.
Members of the upper and lower legislative chambers picked the president in secret balloting inside a tent in an airport hangar within the Halane military camp, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers. Mohamud’s election ended a long-delayed electoral process that had raised political tensions — and heightened insecurity concerns — after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired in February 2021 without a successor in place.
Mohamed and Mohamud sat side-by-side Sunday, watching calmly as the ballots were counted. Celebratory gunfire rang out in parts of Mogadishu as it became clear that Mohamud had defeated the man who replaced him.
Mohamed conceded defeat, and Mohamud was immediately sworn in.
The 66-year-old Mohamud is the leader of the Union for Peace and Development party, which commands a majority of seats in both legislative chambers. He also is well-known for his work as a civic leader and education promoter, including for his role as one of the founders of Mogadishu’s SIMAD University.
The Somali government under Mohamed faced a May 17 deadline to hold the vote or risk losing funding from international partners.
Mohamed — who is also known as Farmaajo because of his appetite for Italian cheese — said on Twitter while voting was underway that it was “a great honor to lead” Somalia.
For Mohamed and his supporters, Sunday’s loss will be disappointing after he rose to power in 2017 as a symbol of a Somali diaspora eager to see the country prosper after years of turmoil. Mohamed leaves behind a country even more volatile than he found it, with a reported rift in the security services and the constant drumbeat of Al-Shabab attacks.
Analysts had predicted that Mohamed would face an uphill battle to be reelected. No sitting president has ever been elected to two consecutive terms in this Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans fight intensely for political power. In winning the vote, however, Mohamud overcame the odds as no former president had ever launched a successful return to the office.
A member of the Hawiye clan, one of Somalia’s largest, Mohamud is regarded by some as a statesman with a conciliatory approach. Many Somalis hope Mohamud can unite the country together after years of divisive clan tensions but also take firm charge of a federal government with little control beyond Mogadishu. Mohamud promised during campaigns that his government would be inclusive, acknowledging the mistakes of his previous government that faced multiple corruption allegations and was seen as aloof to the concerns of rival groups.
The new president “will get an opportunity to heal a nation in desperate need of peace and stability,” said Mogadishu resident Khadra Dualeh. “The country doesn’t need celebrations; we did that for Farmaajo. Enough celebration. We need prayer, being sober and planning how to rebuild the country.”
Al-Shabab, which has ties with Al-Qaeda, has made territorial gains against the federal government in recent months, reversing the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the militants into remote areas of the country.
But Al-Shabab is threatening Mogadishu with repeated assaults on hotels and other public areas. Despite the lockdown, explosions were heard near the airport area as legislators gathered to elect the president.
To discourage extremist violence from disrupting the elections, Somali police put Mogadishu, the scene of regular attacks by the Islamic rebel group Al-Shabab, under a lockdown that started at 9 p.m. on Saturday. Most residents are staying indoors until the lockdown lifts on Monday morning.
The goal of a direct, one-person-one-vote election in Somalia, a country of about 16 million people, remains elusive largely because of the widespread extremist violence. Authorities had planned a direct election this time but, instead, the federal government and states agreed on another “indirect election,” via lawmakers elected by community leaders — delegates of powerful clans — in each member state.
Despite its persistent insecurity, Somalia has had peaceful changes of leadership every four or so years since 2000, and it has the distinction of having Africa’s first democratically elected president to peacefully step down, Aden Abdulle Osman in 1967.
Mohamed’s four-year term expired in February 2021, but he stayed in office after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of his mandate and that of the federal government, drawing fury from Senate leaders and criticism from the international community.
The poll delay triggered an exchange of gunfire in April 2021 between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry over what they saw as the president’s unlawful extension of his mandate.
Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and Al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have shattered the country which has a long, strategic coastline by the Indian Ocean.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
Updated 15 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
  • Restrictions were imposed on May 9 after peaceful protests turned violent

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan authorities on Sunday fully lifted a nationwide curfew to mark the Buddhist holiday of Vesak, offering the people a chance to celebrate as the nation weathers its economic and political crisis. 

The curfew was imposed on May 9 after once-peaceful protests turned violent, killing at least nine people and injuring hundreds others. The violence was followed with Mahinda Rajapaksa resigning from his premiership, leaving his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to rule on as president. 

For over a month, protesters have crowded the streets demanding the president’s resignation, as the country of 22 million suffers from increasing shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts.  

Buildings across the Buddhist-majority country were flying the multi-colored Buddhist flags on Sunday, while residents visited temples clad in all white to celebrate the day that commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

The government announced it was lifting the curfew for Vesak without saying when or whether it would be reimposed. Sri Lankans also got to enjoy the day without power cuts. 

“This Vesak, we are able to see the traditional almsgiving centers, pandals (bamboo stages), Vesak lanterns and oil lamps illuminations that will boost the spiritual morale of the people,” the Rev. Udawela Kolitha Thera, deputy chief of the Walukarama Temple in Colombo, told Arab News. 

Sri Lanka has been unable to celebrate Vesak properly in the last couple of years due to the pandemic and, in 2019, the Easter Sunday attacks, which also dampened celebrations.

Though events planned for this year have been scaled down due to political instability and the deepening economic crisis, worshippers still welcomed the chance of a respite. 

“We are really excited to celebrate Vesak this year with added enthusiasm,” Colombo-based Kelum Bandara, who works at a leading publishing house in the capital, told Arab News. 

“We will celebrate in a low-key form because of the current economic crisis and the ongoing protests against the government.”

“Sri Lanka was enveloped in spiritual fervor as the island nation celebrated yet another Vesak,” Colombo-based journalist Chaminda Perera told Arab News. 

Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was premier five times previously and never completed a full term, made his first Cabinet appointments on Saturday — all members of Rajapaksas’ party. 

The new appointments have failed to appease Sri Lankan protesters who want the Rajapaksas, the nation’s most influential political dynasty, removed from the nation’s politics.  

The ruling family faces accusations of corruption and mishandling of the economy, as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Opposition parties have refused to join any new government unless the president steps down first.