First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England
A photograph shows a thunderstorm above the pond of Perols, southern France, on August 16, 2022. Eight departments in France are on orange alert on the Mediterranean arc on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 17 August 2022

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England
  • Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday
  • In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille

PARIS: After a summer of drought, heat waves and forest fires, violent storms are whipping France and have flooded Paris subway stations, snarled traffic and disrupted the president’s agenda.
Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday, and similar winds were forecast Wednesday in the southeast.
Hail hammered Paris and other regions in Tuesday’s sudden storm. Rainwater gushed down metro station stairwells and onto platforms, and cars sloshed along embankments where the Seine River broke its banks.
In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille and the city’s main courthouse and forced the closure of nearby beaches.
Thunderstorms also appeared in southern England on Wednesday, drenching London tourists and residents after a summer of unusually warm and sunny weather.
The national weather service issued storm warnings for Wednesday and Thursday, advising people to stay alert for possible flooding and power outages.
As scattered storms swept across Belgium on Wednesday, one flooded parts of the historic town of Ghent following weeks of unrelenting drought.
Much of Western Europe has experienced a season of extreme weather that scientists link to human-made climate change.
Amid the storm warnings, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed an event Wednesday on the French Riviera to mark the 78th anniversary of a key Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. It was rescheduled for Friday.
The dramatic downpours put an end to weeks of historic heat that left much of France parched, rivers dry and dozens of villages without running water.
Across much of Europe this summer, a series of heat waves has compounded a critical drought, creating prime wildfire conditions.
Rainfall in recent days has eased the burden on firefighters facing France’s worst fire season in the past decade, though emergency authorities said scattered wildfires continued to burn Wednesday in southwest France.


Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
Updated 8 sec ago

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
MOSCOW: Moscow said Tuesday it will not request the extradition of Russians traveling abroad to avoid being called-up to fight in Ukraine, after thousands of military-aged men crossed into neighboring countries.
“The Russian ministry of defense has not sent any request to the authorities of Kazakhstan, Georgia, or any other country for the alleged forced return to Russian soil of Russian citizens, and it is not planning to do so,” the ministry said in a statement.
Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday, with hours-long queues at border crossings.
On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev vowed to protect the safety and welfare of Russians fleeing a “hopeless situation” on Tuesday.
Russians have also headed to the neighboring Black Sea nation of Georgia, which saw the number of Russians arriving daily nearly double since the mobilization announcement.
On Tuesday the local interior ministry in a Russian region that borders Georgia said the situation at the border was “extremely tense.”
The ministry added that a mobile mobilization office will be set up at the border in the “near future.”

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum
Updated 13 min 34 sec ago

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum
  • The Spanish government, however, rejected the proposal
  • "They have those maximalist aspirations, which are absolutely not shared by the government," spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters

BARCELONA, Spain: Catalonia will push the Spanish government for a new agreement on holding a binding referendum on the region’s potential independence that would be recognized both by Spain and the international community, its separatist leader said on Tuesday.
The Spanish government, however, rejected the proposal.
“They have those maximalist aspirations, which are absolutely not shared by the government,” spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters.
But both governments would keep talking to “normalize” their relationship, she said.
The so-called “clarity agreement” proposal comes shortly before the fifth anniversary of Catalonia’s unauthorized independence referendum and at a critical time for its separatist movement, which is marred by divisions between moderates and radicals that have threatened to fracture the coalition government.
Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has favored dialogue with Catalonia to rebuild relations after a chaotic unilateral bid for independence in 2017 plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.
It remains, however, staunchly opposed to independence and has hitherto ruled out a legal referendum. The Spanish constitution blocks the country’s break up but some scholars and Catalan separatists argue there could be legal room for a vote if the Spanish government agrees.
A similar proposal by Catalonia in 2012 was firmly rejected by the then conservative government in Madrid. The wealthy northeastern region held a referendum five years later despite a ban by the courts, and issued a short-lived unilateral independence declaration.
Catalan government head Pere Aragones told the regional parliament that for another referendum, Catalonia needed Madrid’s buy-in.
“I have no doubt this is the fastest and most efficient way to hold another vote because it originates from the lessons learned from 2017 and overcomes the difficulties that did not allow us to implement the result five years ago,” he said.
He called his proposal the “most inclusive, democratic and explainable to the international community,” and said he would seek the support of all Catalonia’s political actors.
Aragones has engaged in talks with Madrid and his party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has frequently lent its votes to the socialist-led minority government in congress.
Around 52 percent of Catalans oppose independence and 41 percent back it, according to a June poll.


Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls
  • The Taliban have said they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timeframe

ISLAMABAD: A senior member of the Taliban-run government in Afghanistan on Tuesday called on Afghanistan’s new rulers to reopen schools for girls beyond the sixth grade, saying there is no valid reason in Islam for the ban.
The appeal from Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban deputy foreign minister, came during a top Taliban gathering in Kabul. It was a rare moderate voice amid the harsh measures imposed by the Taliban since they overran the country and seized power in August 2021.
The measures include banning girls from middle school and high school despite initial promises to the contrary. Women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing.
The Taliban have said they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timeframe.
The United Nations has called the ban “shameful” and the international community has been wary of officially recognizing the Taliban, fearing a return to the same harsh rule the Taliban imposed when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
“It is very important that education must be provided to all, without any discrimination,” Stanikzai said. “Women must get education, there is no Islamic prohibition for girls’ education.”
“Let’s not provide opportunities for others to create a gap between the government and people,” he added. “If there are technical issues, that needs to be resolved, and schools for girls must be opened.”
Still, it was unclear if and how much Stanikzai could sway hard-liners, who appear to hold the reins in the Taliban administration.
Stanikzai was once head of the Taliban team in talks that led to the 2020 agreement in Qatar between the Taliban and the United States that included the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
His remarks follow the Taliban appointment of a new education minister, days after the UN called on them to reopen schools for girls. The UN estimates that more than 1 million girls have been barred from attending most of middle school and high school over the past year.
A year after the Taliban took over the country as the Western-backed government and military crumbled, the UN says it is increasingly concerned that restrictions on girls’ education, as well as other measures curtailing basic freedoms, would deepen Afghanistan’s economic crisis and lead to greater insecurity, poverty, and isolation.

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UK-Albania deportation pact undermined by legal challenge

UK-Albania deportation pact undermined by legal challenge
Updated 27 September 2022

UK-Albania deportation pact undermined by legal challenge

UK-Albania deportation pact undermined by legal challenge
  • Asylum-seekers from Balkan country will not be subjected to ‘rapid return’ scheme, ruling out over 90% of arrivals

LONDON: A UK government scheme to send Albanian asylum-seekers home quickly after their arrival has been undermined after it emerged few people would be eligible for it.

A legal challenge brought by campaign group Care4Calais against the “rapid return” deal signed between London and Tirana last month, which would have fast-tracked asylum applications and, subsequently, deportations for Albanians entering the UK illegally, means that only a very small minority of those who arrive — those who fail to claim asylum, or have criminal records — could be subject to removal in any event.

Under the initial terms of the deal, asylum applications by Albanians found to have reached Britain having passed through a safe country en route would be rejected, with those people put onto special chartered aircraft “within days” to return them to their Balkan homeland.

It was aimed predominantly at Albanians trying to enter the country via small boats from northern France, the numbers of whom have been growing rapidly throughout the year.

Ninety percent of Albanians who reach the UK via boats across the English Channel claim asylum. This year, more than 31,000 people have successfully made the crossing so far, around 60 percent believed to be Albanian, according to the UK Home Office.

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, told The Times: “The government’s PR blitz outlined a fast-track removal scheme that appeared to deny people from Albania their right to a fair hearing for asylum claims.

“The suggestion was that asylum claims made by Albanians are spurious. In fact, 53 percent of Albanian asylum claims are accepted by the Home Office, demonstrating that for many Albanians their country is not a safe place to live.

“Under the threat of judicial review, the government has performed a major climbdown. In doing so, they are accepting that people from Albania have the right to make an asylum claim and have it fairly heard. This is a victory for human decency.”

In a statement, the Home Office said: “The Albania fast-track process focuses on removing the growing number of individuals from Albania who have no right to be in the UK. This includes failed asylum seekers, foreign national offenders, and individuals overstaying in the UK or seeking to game the system by not claiming asylum.

“Those who seek to abuse our system should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them, as the public rightly expects. Since signing our returns agreement with Albania in 2021, we have removed more than 1,000 Albanians, including some who crossed the Channel illegally to come to the UK.”


Daesh ‘Beatle’ dodges US supermax prison in ‘kick in the teeth’ to victims

Daesh ‘Beatle’ dodges US supermax prison in ‘kick in the teeth’ to victims
Updated 27 September 2022

Daesh ‘Beatle’ dodges US supermax prison in ‘kick in the teeth’ to victims

Daesh ‘Beatle’ dodges US supermax prison in ‘kick in the teeth’ to victims
  • El Shafee El-Sheikh carried out brutal aid worker killings during Syria’s civil war

LONDON: Daesh “Beatle” El Shafee El-Sheikh has avoided serving prison time in a US supermax prison after being moved to a lesser penitentiary following conviction, The Mirror reported.

The terrorist, who grew up in Britain and had his citizenship stripped in 2018, was part of the four-man Daesh terror group dubbed the “Beatles” that carried out brutal high-profile killings during Syria’s civil war.

But after being convicted in the US, the 34-year-old has avoided being transferred to Colorado’s ADX Florence — the country’s most notorious supermax prison — as was expected.

Instead, the Sudan-born terrorist is being held at nearby USP Florence High, where he will stay as part of the general prison population rather than in solitary confinement.

Earlier this year in August, El-Sheikh’s legal team argued during sentencing that due to mental health issues, the man dubbed “Jihadi Ringo” should serve time in a lesser prison.

“Sending Mr. El-Sheikh, an individual who is already showing signs of mental and physical deterioration from his present and past detention, to ADX Florence, is not an appropriate sentence,” they said.

However, trial judge Thomas Selby Ellis dismissed the plea at the time.

El-Sheikh was found guilty on eight charges, including four counts of hostage-taking resulting in death, murder conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

The “Beatles” group was responsible for the killings of British volunteers David Haines and Alan Henning, as well as US aid workers Kayla Mueller, James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig.

A US prison source told The Mirror: “Quite how El-Sheikh avoided the supermax, none of the victim’s families know.

“They were sure he was to see out his days at ADX, but they have now been told he has been sent to the lesser penitentiary. It’s a huge kick in the teeth.”

The source added: “The supermax is reserved for the worst of the worst, and El-Sheikh’s CV shows he is more than qualified.

“But he has avoided being kept alongside some of the world’s most dangerous men and dying alone.

“While El-Sheikh’s cohort (Alexanda) Kotey admitted his guilt, he thought he would beat the system and fool a jury over his innocence. They saw through his lies, and now payback has begun.”

Prisoners held at Florence High have included US serial killer Gary Ridgway, as well as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers.