Firefighters, aircraft fight blaze near France’s Mediterranean coast

Firefighters, aircraft fight blaze near France’s Mediterranean coast
Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft were deployed on Friday to battle a massive blaze in France’s southern Gard region that burned 600 hectares (1,500 acres) overnight. (AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2022

Firefighters, aircraft fight blaze near France’s Mediterranean coast

Firefighters, aircraft fight blaze near France’s Mediterranean coast
  • Nearly 700 firefighters were tackling the blaze in the Gard department
  • Eighteen firefighters have been hurt tackling the fire

PARIS: Airborne French firefighters and hundreds of emergency crew battled on Friday to bring under control a wildlife near the Mediterranean coast, local authorities said.
Nearly 700 firefighters were tackling the blaze in the Gard department, which had burned more than 600 hectares (1,480 acres) and forced the evacuation of some residents.
“The fire went on all night and is still not under control but the situation is now more favorable,” the Gard department prefect said in a statement.
Eighteen firefighters have been hurt tackling the fire. It would take several more days to extinguish the blaze, a fire brigade spokesman said.
Public access to forests in the Gard was prohibited until Monday.
The location of the fire is little more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Mediterranean coast, where a mix of high temperatures, tinder-box conditions and strong winds is forecast in coming days.


UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
Updated 10 sec ago

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
  • New 2-tier system being considered to reduce country’s 150,000-person backlog
  • Syrian, Afghan applications have 98% success rate in UK: Home Office

LONDON: The UK is to establish a two-tier asylum system to speed up claims from people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, in plans set to be announced next week.

The country faces a significant backlog of 150,000 applications driven in part by mass migration of people from places such as Albania, which is considered a safe country. 

A huge number of people have taken to crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats to reach the UK, which has placed enormous burden on the state’s ability to house and support asylum-seekers.

The UK Home Office says by the end of the year it expects at least 50,000 people to have arrived in the country to claim asylum. 

Its figures also show that around 98 percent of applications from people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, 87 percent from people from Sudan and 82 percent of Iranians — who make up around a third of the backlogged asylum claims in total — end up being approved.

Under the proposals, those from the likes of Afghanistan and Syria will now be prioritized and their processes streamlined, removing things such as follow-up interviews after initial approval, and security and identity checks. 

It is thought that this will allow more deserving refugees to start their lives in the UK, as it will allow them to find work and their own accommodation.

Applications from Albanians, meanwhile, will also be dealt with quicker, with a deal to be struck between London and Tirana to expedite the process of deporting those whose applications are denied.

One source told The Times that the new scheme is being overseen directly by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has “completely taken control of the policy” from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had previously gone on record to say speeding up application processes based on nationality “wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

The source said: “He’s got teams of Home Office officials working directly to him, and Suella has been sidelined.”

A Home Office source told The Times that the department is looking at “focusing resources on very high grant rate cases.”


Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
Updated 24 min 4 sec ago

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
  • Catering course gave Ismet Shehu chance to serve late monarch during Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • ‘Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?’

LONDON: An Albanian who traveled to Britain hidden in a truck has told the Daily Mail that he served lunch to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismet Shehu, now 32, made the dangerous journey aged 17 after traveling to Italy and then France, where in Lille he entered the back of a truck heading for Britain.

Shehu entered the construction and hospitality industries after arriving in the UK, working low-wage jobs before signing up to a university course teaching high-end catering in London.

That course, as part of its training program, offered a small group of students — including Shehu — the opportunity to serve lunch to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Now back in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Shehu has used his experience in hospitality to open a range of successful restaurants.

He told the Mail: “Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?

“It was such an honor for me to do that and all just a couple of years after getting into the country hiding in the back of a lorry. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”


Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
Updated 03 December 2022

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport
  • Slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs

BEIJING: Local Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.
The slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents frustrated by the rigid enforcement of anti-virus restrictions that are now entering their fourth year, even as the rest of the world has opened up.
The southern technological manufacturing center of Shenzhen said Saturday that commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the capital Beijing said Friday that negative test results are also no longer required for public transport from Dec. 5. However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries providing takeout services.
The requirement has led to complaints from some Beijing residents that even though the city has shut many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 tests.
The government reported 33,018 domestic infections found in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no symptoms.
As the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy, which has been in place since the pandemic started, led to snap lockdowns and mass-testing across the country.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers to the country, even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.
The recent demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted Nov. 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
The country saw several days of protests across various cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some demanded Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, an extraordinary show of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near total control.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
While the government has conceded some mistakes, blamed mainly on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can result in punishment. Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing conditions in team quarantine facilities, according to local media reports.
On Friday, World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said that the UN agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.”


Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
Updated 03 December 2022

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.


UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences
Updated 03 December 2022

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences
  • Military-installed government using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition
  • At least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
High Commissioner Volker Turk said at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday, and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday.
“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Turk said in a statement. “Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.”
The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts have characterized as civil war.
Turk said the military-installed government has arrested nearly 16,500 people for opposing the army takeover, including about 1,700 who have been convicted in secret courts without access to lawyers.
The Students’ Union of Dagon University in Yangon, the country’s largest city, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that seven university students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were arrested on April 21 had been sentenced to death Wednesday by a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
An executive member of the Dagon University Students’ Union told The Associated Press that the seven were accused of links to an urban guerrilla group opposed to military rule and convicted of murder for allegedly taking part in shooting a bank branch manager in April.
In late July, the government hanged four political activists, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.
The hangings prompted condemnations from Western nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to defuse the crisis with a five-point plan that the military government has failed to implement.
“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said.