Man detained in police probe of raging wildfires in France

Man detained in police probe of raging wildfires in France
Strong winds and hot, dry weather are frustrating French firefighters’ efforts to contain a huge wildfire that raced across pine forests in the Bordeaux region Saturday for a fifth straight day. (AP)
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Updated 19 July 2022

Man detained in police probe of raging wildfires in France

Man detained in police probe of raging wildfires in France
  • One of the blazes, tearing through woodlands south of Bordeaux, is suspected to have been started deliberately
  • Criminal investigators found evidence pointing to possible arson

LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France: French investigators probing the suspected deliberate lighting of what has become a raging wildfire in the country’s southwest detained a man for questioning,
Meanwhile, firefighters and water-bombing planes on Tuesday fought the ferocious flames fueled by a heat wave smashing temperature records in Europe.
Two huge fires feeding on tinder-dry pine forests in the Gironde region have forced tens of thousands of people to flee homes and summer vacation spots since they broke out July 12.
One of the blazes, tearing through woodlands south of Bordeaux, is suspected to have been started deliberately. A motorist told investigators that he saw a vehicle speeding away from the spot where that fire started on July 12. The motorist pulled over and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames, the Bordeaux prosecutor’s office said.
Criminal investigators found evidence pointing to possible arson, it said.
The 39-year-old man being questioned Tuesday lives in Gironde and was detained on Monday afternoon, the prosecutor’s office said. He previously also was questioned in 2012 on suspicion of starting a forest fire but that investigation was shelved in 2014 for lack of evidence, the prosecutor’s office added.
Investigations are continuing and witnesses are being heard, it said.
Ten water-bombing planes and more than 2,000 firefighters are working day and night to contain that fire and another fierce blaze southwest of Bordeaux that police investigators are treating as accidental. The blazes have already burned through more than 190 square kilometers (more than 70 square miles) of forest and vegetation, Gironde authorities said.
Thick clouds of smoke and the risk of flames spreading to buildings have forced the evacuations of more than 37,000 people, including 16,000 on Monday alone, authorities said. A smaller third fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further taxing regional firefighting resources.
Those evacuated Monday included 74 residents of a retirement home, authorities said. Animals were also evacuated from a zoo. Five camping sites went up in flames in the Atlantic coast beach zone southwest of Bordeaux, around the Arcachon maritime basin famous for its oysters and resorts.
Swirling winds and extreme heat have complicated the firefighting. But changing weather Tuesday offered some consolation, with heat-wave temperatures easing along the Atlantic seaboard and rains expected to roll in late in the day.
The double blow of heat waves and droughts exacerbated by climate change are making wildfires more frequent, destructive and harder to fight. In Spain, the prime minister has linked wildfires that have killed two people to global warming, warning Monday that “climate change kills.”
The head of Spain’s Civil Protection and Emergencies agency, Leonardo Marcos González, noted Tuesday that extreme heat and wildfires have hit the country three weeks earlier than usual this year and that many fires broke out at the same time.
“We are in the midst of the most significant civil protection emergency on record,” he told radio station SER.
In Portugal, cooling temperatures have eased pressure on emergency crews, with just two major wildfires being tackled by around 800 firefighters Tuesday. But more torrid weather is forecast for Wednesday.
Authorities suspect a wildfire is to blame for the death of a couple in their 80s whose car went off the road and flipped over in a northern Portuguese village late Monday. Their charred vehicle with two bodies inside was found after a blaze engulfed the area, and officials suspect they were killed while trying to flee the flames.
The pilot of a water-dumping plane also died in Portugal last week when his aircraft crashed while fighting a wildfire.


French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran

French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran
Updated 6 sec ago

French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran

French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran
  • Some women cut off chunks of their hair in protest

PARIS: Thousands of people marched in Paris on Sunday to show their support for Iranian protesters standing up to their leadership over the death of a young woman in police custody. Several female demonstrators chopped off chunks of their hair and tossed them into the air as a gesture of liberation.
Women of Iranian heritage, French feminist groups and leading politicians were among those who joined the gathering at Republique Plaza before marching through eastern Paris.
“Woman, Life, Liberty!” the crowd chanted, undeterred by the rainy weather. Some banners read: “Freedom for Iranian women,” or “No to Obligatory Hijab” or just the young woman’s name: “#Mahsa Amini.”
It was the latest and appeared to be the largest of several protests in France in support of the Iranian demonstrators. Iranians and others have also marched in cities around the world.
Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the last two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by Iran’s morality police in the capital of Tehran for allegedly not adhering to Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.
The protesters have vented their anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic, and the demonstrations escalated into calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since 1979.
At the Paris protest, some chanted in Persian and French, “Khomenei get out!” — referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomenei. Some women’s cheeks bore drawings of a red poppy, the symbol of a martyr in Iran.
Iris Farkhondeh, a 40-year-old French scholar who came to France as a refugee when she was a toddler, said she worries about rising Islamist extremism and the risk of terrorist attacks in France by religious extremists.
“The battle we fight in Iran is the same as that in France,” she said.
Other protesters described anger at Iran’s dress codes and encroaching restrictions on women. Some were afraid to give their names out of concerns for repercussions for family members in Iran.
Romane Ranjbaran, 28, came to protest with her mother and other family members.
”Iran is part and parcel of my history. My mom knew free Iran, when women were free,” she said.
She said she was happy to see so many people at Sunday’s gathering.
“It is an international fight. If we want the situation in Iran to improve, we need international support,” she said.


Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end
Updated 02 October 2022

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end
  • “It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Dendias said

ATHENS: Greece wants to have a constructive dialogue with Turkey based on international law but its Aegean neighbor must halt its unprecedented escalation of provocations, the Greek foreign minister said on Sunday.
The two countries — North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes — have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea and divided Cyprus.
“It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Nikos Dendias told Proto Thema newspaper in an interview.
Last month, the European Union voiced concern over statements by Turkish President Tayip Erdogan accusing Greece, an EU member, of occupying demilitarised islands in the Aegean and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came.
“The one responsible for a de-escalation is the one causing the escalation, which is Turkey,” Dendias said.
He blamed Ankara for increased provocations with a rhetoric of false and legally baseless claims, “even personal insults.”
Turkey has sharply increased its overflights and violations of Greek airspace, Dendias told the paper, adding that its behavior seems to be serving a “revisionist narrative” that it promotes consistently.
He said Turkish claims that Greece cannot be an equal interlocutor diplomatically, politically and militarily violates the basic rule of foreign relations — the principle of euality among nations.
“It is an insulting approach that ranks various countries as more or less equal,” Dendias said.


UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance
Updated 02 October 2022

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance
  • Blended finance structures will help mobilize climate capital toward emerging markets, developing economies: Alliance

GENEVA: The UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance will hold a high-level forum on the potential of blended finance aims, the Emirates News Agency reported.

It follows the publication Call on Policymakers to facilitate the scaling of blended finance structures to fund climate solutions in order to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and UN sustainable development goals.

The agenda will include a keynote address by UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action Selwin Hart.

The alliance, signed by UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney and UN High-Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping, noted that blended finance structures would help to mobilize climate capital toward emerging markets and developing economies.

Given their experience and expertise, particularly in EMDEs, as well as their higher risk tolerance and official development mandates, multilateral development banks and development finance institutions have significant potential to mobilize private capital through blended finance.

By collaborating with Convergence (the global network for blended finance) and establishing dialogue with members of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, the alliance hopes to contribute to the implementation of the highlighted solutions.

Massive capital mobilization into EMDEs is possible only if donors, development banks, and private-sector financiers work together to effect systemic change in how private capital is deployed in climate and SDGs finance.


Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops

Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops
Updated 02 October 2022

Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops

Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops
  • The recapture of Lyman marks the first Ukrainian military victory in territory that the Kremlin has claimed as its own
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to retake more areas in the country’s eastern Donbas region within the week

MYKOLAIVKA, Ukraine: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that Lyman, a key town located in one of the four Ukrainian regions that Russia annexed, was “cleared” of Moscow’s troops.
The latest development — a feature of Ukraine’s weeks-long counteroffensive against Moscow’s invasion — comes as Russia pushed forward with finalizing the annexation of captured Ukrainian territories despite condemnation from Kyiv and the West.
The recapture of Lyman — which Moscow’s forces pummelled for weeks to control this spring — marks the first Ukrainian military victory in territory that the Kremlin has claimed as its own and has vowed to defend by all possible means.
“As of 12:30 p.m. (0930 GMT) Lyman is completely cleared. Thank you to our military!” Zelensky said in a video posted on social media.
Ukraine’s army said it had entered Lyman on Saturday, prompting Moscow to announce the “withdrawal” of its troops from the town toward “more favorable lines.”
“Now I am optimistic and very motivated. I see the activity on the front line, and how foreign weapons... help us take our lands back,” a 33-year-old Ukrainian solider, who uses the nom de guerre “Smoke,” told AFP after returning from near Lyman.
In a video address late on Saturday, Zelensky pledged to retake more areas in the country’s eastern Donbas region within the week.
With Russian losses mounting, experts have warned that President Vladimir Putin could turn to nuclear weapons to defend territory — an option floated by a Putin ally.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Saturday that Russia should consider using “low-yield nuclear weapons” after Moscow’s troops were forced out of Lyman.
Putin staged a grand Kremlin ceremony on Friday to celebrate the annexation of the four Ukrainian territories: Donetsk, Kherson, Lugansk and Zaporizhzhia, following referendums denounced as void by Kyiv and its allies.
Despite condemnation from the West, Russia’s Constitutional Court on Sunday recognized as lawful the annexation accords signed by Putin with the Moscow-backed leaders of the four Ukrainian territories.
The annexation treaties will be considered by Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Monday, according to Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, also annexed by Moscow, in 2014.
Together the five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine.
Kyiv has also called for the immediate release of the chief of the Moscow-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, condemning his “illegal detention” by the Russians.
Ihor Murashov was leaving the plant Friday when he was detained and “driven in an unknown direction” while blindfolded, Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom has said.
In a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), its chief Rafael Grossi said Murashov’s detention was cause for “grave concern.”
Grossi is expected to travel to Kyiv and Moscow “next week,” the UN agency added.
Zaporizhzhia — Europe’s largest nuclear energy facility — has been at the center of tensions, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of strikes on and near the plant, raising fears of an atomic disaster.
Following the annexations, Washington announced “severe” new sanctions against Russian officials and the defense industry, and said G7 allies support imposing “costs” on any nation backing annexation.
Zelensky urged the US-led military alliance NATO to grant his country fast-track membership.
He also vowed never to hold talks with Russia as long as Putin was in power.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg slammed the annexation as “illegal and illegitimate” but remained non-committal after Ukraine said it was applying to join the Western alliance.
Turkey said Saturday Russia’s annexation was a “grave violation of the established principles of international law.”
Despite Putin’s warnings prior to the annexation that he could use nuclear weapons to defend the captured territories, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would “continue liberating our land and our people.”


Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan
Updated 02 October 2022

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan
  • Women, children suffer malnutrition, frostbite, violence in northeastern Syrian camps

LONDON: The Australian government is set to rescue dozens of Australian women and children detained in Syrian prison camps, the Guardian reported.

More than 20 Australian women and at least 40 children are stuck in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps in northeastern Syria. The camps, being managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces, hold the wives, widows, and children of Daesh fighters defeated by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.

Many of their husbands have been killed by the coalition and its partners in the region, and some have been jailed. Canberra is now set to recover more than 20 of those still in the region. The dozens set to be repatriated will be mostly children, but officials told the Guardian that the rescue operation would take several months.

Most of the children are aged under six and several were born in the camps to widowed wives of the fighters.

The next mission will be the first time that the Australian government has attempted to repatriate citizens from the camps since 2019, when it launched a secret rescue operation to recover eight orphans, including a pregnant teenager.

The government has consistently claimed that security risks prevented any fresh attempts, but government sources told the Guardian that a rescue mission was now on the way.

A spokesperson for Clare O’Neil, Australia’s home affairs minister, told Guardian Australia on Sunday: “The Australian government’s overriding priority is the protection of Australians and Australia’s national interest, informed by national security advice. Given the sensitive nature of the matters involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

Forty-four children and several Australian widows are held in Al-Roj camp, which is closer to the Iraqi border than the more dangerous Al-Hol camp, where shootings have taken place and illness is rife. More than 100 murders were reported in Al-Hol camp in the 18 months leading up to June.

The SDF, a predominantly Kurdish force, last month arrested more than 300 Daesh fighters inside the camp. Its troops seized weapons and freed at least six women who were living as slaves, chained under the control of their captors. One of the women had been living in captivity since 2014, when she was just nine years old.

The Australian push to repatriate citizens comes after several other Western nations adopted similar plans.

The Guardian said that Germany had repatriated 91 citizens, France, 86, and the US, 26. Kazakhstan had recovered 700 of its citizens, with Russia and Kosovo both repatriating more than 200 each.

The US has urged Canberra to conduct repatriations amid reports of troubling conditions that the children have endured. In July, Sydney-born teenager Yusuf Zahab died of unknown causes. He had tuberculosis and was begging for support in January amid Daesh attacks on a prison. He was aged 11 when taken to Syria against his will by his family, of which a dozen joined Daesh.

Reports of malnutrition and frostbite suffered by Australian children were heard in 2020, and 2021.

UN experts said plans to repatriate women and children were “entirely feasible.”

In a joint statement, they said: “The government of Australia has the capacity to do so. Many other governments are currently doing it. Australia has an advanced child welfare, education, criminal justice, and health system which is eminently capable of addressing the needs of these children and their mothers.

“Failure to repatriate is an abdication of Australia’s treaty obligations and their deeper moral obligations to protect Australia’s most vulnerable children.”

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the Guardian that “appallingly harsh conditions” in Al-Hol were worsening.

“The children here have less food, clean water, health care, and education than international standards call for. They are endlessly exposed to dangers, and their rights are ignored. A lack of attention is not an excuse to forget the women and children here.

“We welcome the efforts that have been made to repatriate women and children back to their home countries. But this camp remains the shame of the international community,” he said.