Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained

Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained
The European Forest Fire Information System says 275,000 hectares have burned in wildfires so far this year in Spain. That’s more than four times the country’s annual average of 67,000 hectares. (AP)
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Updated 18 August 2022

Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained

Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained
  • The fires in both countries followed punishing heatwaves and long dry spells, leaving forests parched and primed to burn
  • With more hot weather forecast, however, there were fears it could flare up again

LISBON: Massive wildfires in Portugal and Spain were largely under control Thursday after forcing thousands from their homes and destroying large swathes of land.
The fires in both countries followed punishing heatwaves and long dry spells, leaving forests parched and primed to burn.
In Portugal, over 1,000 firefighters were still deployed in the Serra da Estrela national park, but the blaze was mostly contained after days of burning out of control.
With more hot weather forecast, however, there were fears it could flare up again.
“The fire is under control, but it is not extinguished. Consolidation work will continue in the coming days,” civil protection commander Miguel Oliveira told TSF radio.
“It is always possible, and very likely, that there will be new reactivations, but we hope that they do not take on worrying proportions,” he said.
The huge fire in central Portugal was brought under control last week, only to restart again Monday.
More than 25,000 hectares (nearly 61,800 acres) of land is estimated to have been scorched by the fire in the UNESCO-listed park, home to diverse wildlife species including wildcats and lizards.
Forecasts are predicting a fresh heatwave on Saturday, the latest in a string of hot spells in Portugal this year. July was the hottest on record in nearly a century.
Interior Minister Jose Luis Carneiro said Wednesday “we will experience increased risks” of fires in the coming days due to hot and dry conditions.
In neighboring Spain, rain and lower temperatures eased pressure on firefighters who for days have been battling two major fires in the eastern Valencia region, officials said Thursday.
“Finally, some good news: the rain and the drop in temperatures have helped to contain the fire in Vall d’Ebo,” regional leader Ximo Puig tweeted late Wednesday.
He hoped the conditions would also “help stabilize the fire in Bejis” further north.
By Thursday morning, there were “few visible flames left,” Puig told Cadena Ser radio, as the emergency services said the rain had almost completely put out the fires.
The two wildfires had forced the evacuation of 3,000 people and burnt their way through some 25,000 hectares.
So far this year, Spain has been hit by 391 wildfires, which have destroyed over 283,000 hectares of land in total, the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System show.
This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which totalled over 84,000 hectares, the figures show.
In Portugal, some 92,000 hectares have burned this year, according to the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests, in the worst fires since 2017 when around 100 people were killed.
Experts say climate change driven by human activity is boosting the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.


Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain
Updated 58 min 2 sec ago

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain
  • Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam
  • 32 women judges and prosecutors left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum in Europe

MADRID: Pushing her son on a swing at a playground on a sunny winter's day in Madrid, former Afghan prosecutor Obaida Sharar expresses relief that she found asylum in Spain after fleeing Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took over.
Sharar, who arrived in Madrid with her family, is one of 19 female prosecutors to have found asylum in the country after being left in limbo in Pakistan without official refugee status for up to a year after the Taliban's return to power. She feels selfish being happy while her fellow women suffer, she said. "Most Afghan women and girls that remain in Afghanistan don't have the right to study, to have a social life or even go to a beauty salon," Sharar said. "I cannot be happy."
Women's freedoms in her home country were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam.
The Taliban administration has banned most female aid workers and last year stopped women and girls from attending high school and university.
Sharar's work and that of her female peers while they lived in Afghanistan was dangerous. Female judges and prosecutors were threatened and became the target of revenge attacks as they undertook work overseeing the trial and conviction of men accused of gender crimes, including rape and murder.
She was part of a group of 32 women judges and prosecutors that left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum.
A prosecutor, who gave only her initials as S.M. due to fears over her safety and who specialised in gender violence and violence against children said, "I was the only female prosecutor in the province... I received threats from Taliban members and the criminals who I had sent to prison."
Now she and her family are also in Spain.
Many of the women have said they felt abandoned by Western governments and international organizations.
Ignacio Rodriguez, a Spanish lawyer and president of Bilbao-based 14 Lawyers, a non-governmental organisation which defends prosecuted lawyers, said the women had been held up as symbols of democratic success only to be discarded.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was not in a position to comment on specific cases.
"The Government of Pakistan has not agreed to recognise newly arriving Afghans as refugees," UNHCR said in a statement. "Since 2021, UNHCR has been in discussions with the government on measures and mechanisms to support vulnerable Afghans. Regrettably, no progress has been made."
The foreign ministry of Pakistan did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Pakistan is home to millions of refugees from Afghanistan who fled after the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979 and during the subsequent civil war. Most of them are yet to return despite Pakistan's push to repatriate them under different programmes.
The Taliban has said any Afghan who fled the country since it took power in 2021 can return safely through a repatriation council.
"Afghanistan is the joint home of all Afghans," said Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson for the Taliban administration. "They can live here without any threat."


Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting
Updated 02 February 2023

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting
  • Nana Oppong, 42, awaiting extradition to UK after ‘day and night’ multi-agency manhunt
  • National Crime Agency regional manager praises ‘the vigilance of our Moroccan partners’

LONDON: A criminal wanted by UK authorities over a deadly drive-by shooting has been arrested at the Moroccan border following a “day and night” multi-agency manhunt, the Daily Mail reported.

Nana Oppong, 42, was the subject of a UK police investigation into the drive-by killing of 50-year-old Robert Powell in 2020.

Oppong was named on the National Crime Agency’s most-wanted list and was placed on Interpol Red Notice, which alerts law enforcement authorities worldwide about wanted fugitives.

UK police said Oppong was arrested by Moroccan border authorities late last year after trying to enter from Spain on forged documents, but the news was kept secret over operational and security concerns.

Oppong, who is the seventh person to be arrested from the NCA most-wanted list, has since been kept in custody and is awaiting extradition to the UK.

NCA regional manager in Spain Steve Reynolds said: “Oppong’s arrest came about after a sustained campaign to trace him and because of the vigilance of our Moroccan partners and support from Interpol.

“This is another excellent result and shows once again that UK law enforcement does not give up on finding those who await justice in the UK. Working with our colleagues at home and abroad we will continue to hunt those on the run.”

Stephen Jennings, a detective superintendent who leads the regional police case on Oppong, said: “Numerous officers and staff across all agencies involved in this case have been working day and night to get justice for Robert’s family.

“Oppong’s arrest is the result of an excellent collaboration between Essex Police, the NCA, the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), Interpol, Crimestoppers and other law enforcement colleagues around the world.”


UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
Updated 02 February 2023

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
  • Foreign Office fears move could make communication channels with Iran more difficult
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘should have been proscribed by now,’ source tells Times

A plan to ban Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK for being a terrorist organization has been temporarily shelved by the government over fears that the move could harm diplomatic communication channels between London and Tehran. It is not known how long the pause will last.

The IRGC, established in 1979 in the wake of Iran’s revolution, has been accused of orchestrating insurgencies, assassinations, attacks and other acts of aggression worldwide. 

The proposed ban would have made membership of the IRGC or attendance of meetings in support of it illegal in the UK, and hindered its ability to raise funds in the country.

In November, the director general of UK intelligence branch MI5, Ken McCallum, accused the IRGC of plotting to assassinate or kidnap people living in Britain on at least 10 occasions in 2022.

The IRGC was also accused by British security services of threatening journalists working at London-based news outlet Iran International, which necessitated the deployment of armed police at its offices.

The IRGC’s outlawing has long been supported by senior British politicians, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat.

A source told The Times: “Foreign Office officials have real concerns about proscription because they want to maintain access.

“The Home Office, and the government more broadly, supports the move. The IRGC should have been proscribed by now, but the whole process is on ice.”

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remain strained, and were not helped by the execution earlier this year of UK resident Alireza Akbari, who authorities in Tehran had accused of being a spy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the case had “appalled” him.

A UK government spokesperson said: “While the government keeps the list of proscribed organizations under review, we do not comment on whether a specific organization is or is not being considered for proscription.”


EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
Updated 02 February 2023

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
  • An existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day
KYIV: The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.
“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
Updated 02 February 2023

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
  • 28.6% increase in asylum claims as opposition warns of ‘insurrection in the voting booths’
  • Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Georgia were main countries of origin for asylum seekers last year

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is facing significant electoral losses amid concerns over “out of control” immigration, The Times reported.

The government’s perceived failure to control immigration — with a 28.6 percent year-on-year increase in asylum applications — has led to key potential allies urging Macron to take urgent action.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Georgia were the main countries of origin for asylum seekers in France last year.

New figures show that France provided 320,330 people with residency permits in 2022 — up from 193,000 a decade earlier.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the opposition Republicans in the Senate, said populism could make another comeback in France due to growing dissatisfaction with immigration levels.

Macron is likely to need Retailleau’s support in pushing through a critical new immigration bill in Parliament, with the president’s party losing its majority in the National Assembly during elections last year.

The proposed bill aims to ease concerns from both the left and right of French politics, with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne describing the legislation as a balance of “firmness and humanity.”

Under the plans, authorities will expedite the deportation of unemployed illegal immigrants, while industries facing labor shortages will gain access to new one-year working visas enabling the rapid hiring of undocumented migrants.

But Retailleau criticized the proposals, saying it “will not enable us to take back control” of immigration.

He added: “We are in the midst of migratory disorder (and) if we don’t take back control … there will be insurrections in the voting booths very soon.”

Retailleau warned that France could follow in the footsteps of Sweden, where “the extreme right is at the door of power.”

Political commentator Matthieu Croissandeau said: “The left thinks it (the legislation) is too right wing and the right thinks it’s too left wing.”