Bangladesh shuts schools, cuts power in longest heat wave in decades

Bangladesh shuts schools, cuts power  in longest heat wave in decades
People gather at an electronics shop to purchase charger fans during a countrywide heat wave in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 June 2023
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Bangladesh shuts schools, cuts power in longest heat wave in decades

Bangladesh shuts schools, cuts power  in longest heat wave in decades
  • Temperatures in the South Asian nation’s capital of Dhaka have surged to around 40 degrees Celsius

DHAKA: Bangladesh has shut thousands of schools as it struggles through its lengthiest heat wave in half a century, with widespread power cuts only compounding locals’ misery.

Temperatures in the South Asian nation’s capital of Dhaka have surged to around 40 degrees Celsius, with the poor bearing the brunt of the blazing sun.

“We have never seen such a prolonged heat wave since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971,” said Bazlur Rashid, a senior official at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

Tens of thousands of primary schools were shut down by the government, and electricity production has been drastically cut, even as demand for air conditioners and fans has surged.

On Monday, the country was forced to suspend operations at its biggest power plant because the government was unable to afford the coal to fuel it.

The Bangladeshi taka depreciated about 25 percent against the US dollar last year, driving up the cost of fuel imports and power utilities.

Other plants have fallen well short of meeting demand, leading to hours-long blackouts.

Housewife Tania Akhter said that her youngest child was resting at home with classes canceled, but her 12-year-old daughter was still going to school.

“Those classes should also be shut down because the students are suffering a lot in this heat — they are falling sick,” Akhter said.

The heat wave began in April and ran into early May before easing, then resumed late last month, with forecasters predicting the mercury will remain high until the end of the week.

“Every summer Bangladesh witnesses heat waves, but this year’s heat wave is unusual,” Rashid told AFP. “In the past, heat waves would only continue for a few days or a week, but this year it has continued for two weeks and more.”

A study last month by the World Weather Attribution group found that climate change had made record-breaking deadly heat waves in Bangladesh — as well as India, Laos and Thailand — at least 30 times more likely.


EU’s Mediterranean leaders meet on migration

EU’s Mediterranean leaders meet on migration
Updated 14 sec ago
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EU’s Mediterranean leaders meet on migration

EU’s Mediterranean leaders meet on migration
  • UN refugee organization says more than 2,500 migrants had perished attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year
  • New impetus to reach a deal after a sharp rise in migrants landing on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this month

VALLETTA, Malta: The leaders of nine Mediterranean and southern European countries, including France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, meet Friday in Malta for talks set to focus on migration.
The summit comes a day after the UN refugee organization said more than 2,500 migrants had perished or disappeared attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year — substantially more than at the same point in 2022.
But it also comes as EU interior ministers finally made headway Thursday on new rules for how the bloc handles asylum seekers and irregular migrants, with a deal expected in the coming days.
Long in the works, there was new impetus to reach a deal after a sharp rise in migrants landing on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this month.
Meloni’s hard-right coalition government, elected on an anti-migrant ticket, has clashed with both France and Germany as she presses other EU countries to share the burden. So far this year, the number of arrivals at Lampedusa has already passed 133,000.
But Meloni and Macron have sought to ease tensions in recent days, and met Tuesday in Rome on the sidelines of the state funeral for ex-Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.
“There is a shared vision of the management of the migration question between France and Italy,” a French presidential source said.
Paris is hoping Friday’s so-called “Med9” summit will offer a “clear message” that migration requires a response at the European level, the source said.

The EU is poised to agree a revamped Pact on Migration and Asylum, which will seek to relieve pressure on frontline countries such as Italy and Greece by relocating some arrivals to other EU states.
Those countries opposed to hosting asylum-seekers — Poland and Hungary among them — would be required to pay the ones that do take migrants in.
Disagreements within the 27-nation bloc over the proposed revisions have now largely been overcome, EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said Wednesday after the interior ministers’ meeting.
A formal agreement is expected “in a few days,” she said.
Both Meloni and Macron also want to prevent boats departing from North Africa by working more closely with Tunisia, despite questions over the country’s human rights standards and treatment of migrants.
The European Commission said last week it was set to release the first instalment of funds to Tunisia — one of the main launching points for boats — under a plan to bolster its coast guard and tackle traffickers.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi met with his Tunisian and Libyan counterparts in Sicily Thursday for talks on stopping the boats, the ministry said.

Rome and Paris are also keen to intensify EU controls at sea.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who will be at the Malta summit, included the possible expansion of naval missions in the Mediterranean in a 10-point action plan this month in Lampedusa.
There are fears arrivals could spiral further if instability in the Sahel affects North African countries.
The “Med 9,” which brings together Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, is expected to call for greater investment by the bloc in the so-called Southern Neighbourhood.
Extra funding may be earmarked for countries across the Mediterranean’s southern shore in the review of the EU’s 2021-2027 long-term budget, a European diplomatic source told AFP.
The leaders will also discuss regional challenges posed by natural disasters — following a devastating earthquake in Morocco, flood disaster in Libya, and extreme weather events in Southern Europe.
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US worried about worening situation in Amhara, Blinken tells Ethiopia’s PM

US worried about worening situation in Amhara, Blinken tells Ethiopia’s PM
Updated 29 September 2023
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US worried about worening situation in Amhara, Blinken tells Ethiopia’s PM

US worried about worening situation in Amhara, Blinken tells Ethiopia’s PM

WASHINGTON: The United States is worried about the situation in the region of Amhara, where the United Nations has spoken of ongoing human rights violations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday.

“(He) underscored the need to promote peaceful resolution through political dialogue and protection of human rights,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a readout of their telephone conversation. 

Earlier, a UN-backed international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia warned that “violent confrontations are now at a near-national scale, with alarming reports of violations against civilians in the Amhara region and ongoing atrocities in Tigray.”

Ethiopia announced a state of emergency in the Amhara region last month, and the experts cited reports of “mass arbitrary detention of Amhara civilians,” including at least one drone strike carried by government forces.

Organizers of a prominent peace forum in Ethiopia also said the event has been postponed as clashes between the federal government and fighters from a major ethnic group continue to destabilize the region.

The Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa said in a statement last week that the annual gathering of African leaders, set for October, has been pushed back to April 2024 “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

The forum takes place in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which has experienced months of clashes as the federal government tries to disarm local fighters who had been its allies in a recent two-year conflict in the neighboring Tigray region.

The Tana forum describes itself as a platform for “African-led solutions to the continent’s most pressing security challenges.” In recent years, some of those challenges have occurred in the forum’s backyard as the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed struggles to contain ethnic groups that defy efforts to centralize power.

There are frequent reports from Amhara, Ethiopia’s second most populous region, of deadly drone strikes, shelling and other violence in regional towns including Lalibela. Fighting has also occurred in the town of Bahir Dar, where the peace forum takes place. Bahir Dar residents told The Associated Press last month they could hear military aircraft overhead and gunfire in the streets.

Calls to the Tana forum went unanswered on Friday. The non-governmental organization’s key partners include Ethiopia’s government, the Ethiopia-based African Union and the United Nations.

Ethiopia announced a state of emergency in the Amhara region last month, and the experts cited reports of “mass arbitrary detention of Amhara civilians,” including at least one drone strike carried by government forces.

Ethiopia’s government often tries to cover up the extent of such violence and crackdowns, barring the UN-backed experts, human rights researchers and journalists from Tigray and other affected areas. The experts described the government’s attempt at a justice process for victims as flawed, rushed and not trusted by many, including those targeted by federal authorities and combatants.

Now Ethiopia’s government wants to end the mandate of the UN-backed inquiry, following the quiet end to a separate investigation backed by the African Union. The UN Human Rights Council is set to decide early next month whether to extend it.

On Sept. 21, some African countries spoke up at the UN council in support of Ethiopia’s belief that it can deliver justice on its own.

 


At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack

At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack
Updated 29 September 2023
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At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack

At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack
  • Islamist militants have stepped up their attacks amid the power struggles in some countries in the Sahel region, with Niger as the latest to be hit by a coup

NIAMEY: At least ten Niger soldiers were killed in an attack by militants in the country’s southwest on Thursday morning, three security sources told Reuters.

The attack took place about 190 km (118 miles) from the capital Niamey in Kandadji, near the tri-border zone of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger that has been the epicenter of Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel region in the last few years.
The sources including a senior military officer, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, did not say which group was responsible. Local affiliates of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are active in the region and wage frequent attacks on soldiers and civilians.
Two security sources said the army responded to the attack with ground troops as well as helicopters, one of which was hit but was able to return to its base.
Niger is run by a military junta that seized power in a coup in July, partly out of discontent at the worsening security situation. Neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have each had two coups in the last three years.
However, security analysts say attacks had been falling in Niger under ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who had tried to engage with Islamists and the rural communities where they are rooted.
At least 17 soldiers were killed in another attack in southwestern Niger in mid-August.
France said on Sunday it would withdraw its 1,500 troops from Niger before the end of the year, after weeks of pressure from the junta and popular demonstrations against the former colonial ruler, which had forces there to fight the insurgents.
On Thursday, several hundred pro-junta supporters gathered again in front of the French military base in the capital Niamey to demand that the troops leave.


Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal

Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal
Updated 28 September 2023
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Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal

Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal
  • Worth around $3.5 billion (€3.3 billion), the sale is the biggest ever deal for Israel’s military industry

BERLIN: Germany on Thursday signed a deal to acquire the Israeli-made Arrow 3 hypersonic missile system that will become a key part of Europe’s defense against air attack.

The signing of the deal was a “historic day” for both countries, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said at a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant.

Worth around $3.5 billion (€3.3 billion), the sale is the biggest ever deal for Israel’s military industry.

The Arrow 3 system would make “German air defense ready for the future,” Pistorius said.

Germany has led a push to bolster NATO’s air defenses in Europe, urging allies to buy deterrence systems together.

“We can see with the daily Russian attacks on Ukraine how important anti-air defense is,” Pistorius said.

“Only 80 years since the end of the Second World War yet Israel and Germany join hands today in building a safer future,” he said.

The long-range Arrow 3 system, designed to shoot down missiles above the Earth’s atmosphere, is powerful enough to offer protective cover for neighboring EU states.

The system was developed and produced by Israel and the US and the sale had to be approved by Washington before it could be finalized.

The system was first deployed at an Israeli air force base in 2017 and has been used to protect Israel against attacks from Iran and Syria.

Arrow 3 is a “mobile system” that can be deployed depending on the threats faced, according to manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries.

The money for the deal comes from a landmark €100-billion fund unveiled by Chancellor Olaf Scholz to bolster the country’s defenses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More than a dozen European countries have so far signed up to Germany’s common air defense project, the European Sky Shield Initiative.

The Sky Shield project would involve joint procurement for short-, medium- and long-range systems, including the German-made Iris-T, the American Patriot system and Arrow 3.

Some of Germany’s neighbors have however so far declined to sign up to the pact, including France and Poland.

Officials in Paris have argued instead for an air defense system using European equipment.

Berlin has said it expects the Arrow 3 system to be delivered in the final quarter of 2025.


Three killed in twin Dutch shootings

Three killed in twin Dutch shootings
Updated 28 September 2023
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Three killed in twin Dutch shootings

Three killed in twin Dutch shootings
  • Dutch police said they were still investigating the motive for the twin attacks by the 32-year-old man
  • The man first burst into a house in the Dutch port city and opened fire, killing a 39-year-old woman and seriously injuring her 14-year-old daughter

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands: A gunman dressed in combat gear and wearing a bulletproof vest went on a shooting rampage at a house and a hospital in Rotterdam Thursday, killing a 14-year-old girl, her mother and a teacher.
Dutch police said they were still investigating the motive for the twin attacks by the 32-year-old man, who also set fire to the hospital and the house.
The man first burst into a house in the Dutch port city and opened fire, killing a 39-year-old woman and seriously injuring her 14-year-old daughter, police chief Fred Westerbeke told reporters. The girl later died of her injuries.
He then moved to a classroom at the Erasmus MC university hospital, shooting dead a 46-year-old teacher before starting another fire in the facility, sparking panic.
Elite police stormed the hospital, as panicked medical staff in white coats flooded out of the building pushing patients in wheelchairs and on stretchers.
He was taken into custody shortly afterwards and chief public prosecutor Hugo Hillenaar told reporters the suspect was cooperating with police following his arrest.
“We cannot say anything about the motive of this terrible act at this time. The probe is still ongoing,” said Hillenaar.
The suspect was thought to have possessed only one firearm and there is no indication he had accomplices, authorities said.
Police said the suspect, a student at the hospital, was already known to the authorities over a conviction for animal cruelty.
An investigation is underway as to whether he was a student of the teacher shot dead. Authorities believe that the woman and her daughter were close neighbors of the suspect, leading Westerbeke to suggest they were “targeted attacks.”
He had earlier been described as tall, with black hair, wearing “combat-style” clothes and carrying a backpack.
“I am angry and sad,” said Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, who spoke of a “black day” for his city.
“We have been shocked by a horrific incident... the emotion in the city is running high,” the mayor told reporters.
Witnesses described the chaotic scenes around the hospital, as helicopters buzzed overhead, and police snipers took up positions on the hospital roof.
“First there was a shooting on the fourth floor. Four or five shots were fired. Then a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the education center,” said a medical student quoted by RTL Nieuws, who did not give his name.
“There was a lot of panic and screaming... I didn’t hear any shots, just the panic and that’s what I started to act on,” public broadcaster NOS cited another eyewitness as saying.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke of his “great dismay” at the shootings.
“My thoughts go out to the victims of the violence, their loved ones and all those who have been hugely scared,” he added in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima said their hearts went out to those suffering “intense grief.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rotterdam GP Matthijs van der Poel, cited on the Algemeen Dagblad website.
“Everyone is totally shocked by the events and is watching the news with horror. I’m afraid such things cannot be prevented,” he said.
Rotterdam is often the scene of shootings, usually attributed to score settling by rival drug gangs.
In 2019, three people were shot dead on a tram in Utrecht, sparking a huge manhunt.
And in 2011, the country was left shocked when 24-year-old Tristan van der Vlis killed six people and wounded 10 others in a rampage at a packed shopping mall.