Mediterranean nations fight heat and deadly fires

Mediterranean nations fight heat and deadly fires
This photograph taken on July 26, 2023 shows a Canadair firefighting airplane droping water near homes in the Tono district of Messina, Sicily as a fire rages. (AFP)
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Updated 26 July 2023
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Mediterranean nations fight heat and deadly fires

Mediterranean nations fight heat and deadly fires
  • Witnesses described fleeing walls of flames that raged “like a blowtorch“
  • TV footage showed charred cars, burnt-out shops and smoldering scrubland

RHODES, Greece: Greece sweltered in intense heat Wednesday while crews scrambled to douse deadly wildfires that have also struck nations around the Mediterranean and killed dozens.
Thousands of people have evacuated in the region this week as fires also flared in Croatia and Italy, and flames killed 34 in Algeria in extreme heat that has left landscapes tinder dry.
“Back home, there is nothing left and not even a sheep survived,” Taous Timizar, a survivor of the blaze in northeast Algeria, told AFP.
Witnesses described fleeing walls of flames that raged “like a blowtorch,” and TV footage showed charred cars, burnt-out shops and smoldering scrubland.
Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group said this week the heatwaves that have hit parts of Europe and North America this month would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.
The European Union’s climate observatory Copernicus on Wednesday said smoke emissions from wildfires in Greece have been the highest for this period of time in the last 21 years.
Greece has battled over 600 fires in the past 12 days, the government said Wednesday.
Temperatures were expected to hit between 43-46 degrees Celsius (109-115 degrees Fahrenheit) in central and southern Greece, according to the national meteorological service.
“Today is the most difficult day in terms of the heat, complicating the fight against existing fires and making new fire outbreaks more likely,” fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopios told Skai radio.
Storms are forecast for Thursday.
Greece is used to summer heatwaves, but is experiencing one of the longest ones in recent years, according to experts.
The civil protection ministry has warned of an extreme danger of fire in six of the country’s 13 regions on Wednesday.
Wildfires, which have been burning in several parts of the country for more than 10 days, were ravaging the tourist islands of Rhodes, Corfu and Evia.
The EU crisis management commissioner’s office on Wednesday said over 490 firefighters and seven planes had been deployed to different areas in Greece under the bloc’s civil protection mechanism.
At least 100 firefighters were working to contain the flames on Evia, where on Tuesday two pilots were killed when their water bomber aircraft crashed.
The body of a third victim was also found on Evia.
Authorities have evacuated tens of thousands of people from fire areas in Greece, including many tourists.
The severe heatwave in Greece has also been reflected across much of southern Europe and northern Africa.
In Italy, firefighters spent the night battling wildfires in Sicily, one of which approached so close to Palermo airport that it shut down for several hours Tuesday morning.
Italy’s civil protection department on Tuesday reported “extensive fires” across the south.
In the north, a 16-year-old girl on a camping trip was among two people killed by falling trees during violent storms.
Dozens of firefighters were battling a wildfire near Croatia’s picturesque southern city of Dubrovnik, authorities said Wednesday, with water-bombing planes dispatched to help contain the blaze.
Around 130 firefighters were working to contain the flames that had been spread by strong winds on Tuesday.
Local media reported the fire also triggered land mines to explode in the area.
During the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Dubrovnik was besieged and shelled by Serb forces, leading several areas in the city to be damaged while swaths of its outskirts are still contaminated by land mines.


District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts
Updated 12 July 2024
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District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts
  • The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35”

THE HAGUE: Dutch judges on Friday slapped down an urgent request by a trio of rights groups to penalize the Netherlands for not respecting a ban on supplying F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
In a landmark verdict in February, an appeals court ordered the Netherlands to stop delivering parts for fighter jets used by Israel in its offensive in the Gaza Strip.
But the rights groups went back to court in June, saying that the ban has not prevented parts ending up in Israeli planes.
Their lawyers accused the Dutch government of continuing “to deliver (parts) to other countries, including the US.”
The three groups asked The Hague District Court in an urgent request to impose a €50,000 per day fine on the state for not respecting the verdict.
Their lawyers said F-35 parts exported by the Netherlands continued to reach Israel via other routes, including the so-called “Global Spares Pool” — a joint stock of spare parts maintained by countries that operate the F-35.
The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35.”
The judges said the February judgment had a “more limited scope” than the rights group’s current urgent request.
“It has not been demonstrated that the state is not complying with the ban or does not intend to continue to comply,” the judges said.
“Therefore, there is no penalty for a violation,” the judges said.
In its verdict in February, appeals judges found that there was a “clear risk” the planes would be involved in breaking international humanitarian law.
The Dutch government then acknowledged it could not prevent parts shipped to the US from eventually ending up in Israeli F-35s.
But its lawyers said it did not believe the Netherlands had to restrict exports of F-35 parts to countries other than Israel.
The Dutch government added that it would implement the February verdict but announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

 


Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age

Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age
Updated 12 July 2024
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Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age

Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age
  • Around 19,000 migrants, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2024, a 167 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to government figures

MADRID: When Abdellatif Bouhlal landed on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria after surviving the perilous sea journey from Morocco on a rickety dinghy, he was alone and just 15 years old.
Having been picked up at sea, Bouhlal spent three years in a reception center for unaccompanied minors, but when he came of age, he had to leave and find his shelter.
With the authorities slow to process the paperwork he needs as a foreigner to be able to work in Spain, he was forced to sleep rough and beg for money, he said.
“On the same day I turned 18, they dumped me out on the streets like a dog,” he said from a makeshift tent on El Cabron beach in the town of Arinaga.
Bouhlal’s story is shared by thousands of young migrants who attempt the perilous journey on the deadly Atlantic route, only to find a host country that struggles to cope with an unprecedented number of arrivals and integrate them into the domestic jobs market.
Around 19,000 migrants, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2024, a 167 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to government figures.
Disagreements on migration policy have driven a wedge between the conservative People’s Party, or PP, and the far-right Vox, which ruled five Spanish regions together until Thursday when the PP backed a plan by Spain’s central Socialist-run government to move around 400 under-18 migrants from the Canary Islands to the mainland.
Bouhlal, born in the north-central Moroccan city of Beni Mellal, said he had left his country because he saw no future.
His scant belongings include a bare mattress, a cardboard box with second-hand clothes, and a few candles.
On windy nights, he covers his head with a blanket to protect his eyes from the sand being blown around.
Bouhlal said that when he begs for money, he faces the dilemma of spending it on food or the bus fare to the island’s capital, Las Palmas, for appointments with officials handling his residency case.
He has not seen his mother in 3 1/2 years.
A tearful Bouhlal, who does not have a phone, said he closes his eyes every night and pictures having dinner with her and his little sister. “Not talking to her really hurts,” he said.

 


Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says

Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says
Updated 12 July 2024
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Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says

Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says
  • The plots have sometimes involved recruiting common criminals in foreign countries to conduct the attacks
  • One major plot recently uncovered had targeted Armin Papperger, CEO of defense company Rheinmetall

WASHINGTON: Western intelligence agencies have uncovered Russian plots to carry out assassinations, arson and other sabotage in Europe against companies and people linked to support for Ukraine’s military — one of the most serious being a plan to kill the head of a German arms manufacturer, a Western government official said.
The plots have sometimes involved recruiting common criminals in foreign countries to conduct the attacks, said the official, who is familiar with the situation but not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One major plot recently uncovered had targeted Armin Papperger, CEO of defense company Rheinmetall, the official said.
The official declined to offer any details on other plots, which were first reported by CNN. The CNN report said the US informed Germany, whose security services were able to protect Papperger and foil the plot.
Rheinmetall is a major supplier of military technology and artillery rounds for Ukraine as it fights off Russian forces. The company last month opened an armored vehicle maintenance and repair facility in western Ukraine and also aims to start production inside the country.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson declined to comment on the alleged plot to kill Papperger but said, “Russia’s intensifying campaign of subversion is something that we are taking extremely seriously and have been intently focused on over the past few months.”
“The United States has been discussing this issue with our NATO allies, and we are actively working together to expose and disrupt these activities,” Watson added. “We have also been clear that Russia’s actions will not deter allies from continuing to support Ukraine.”
Neither Rheinmetall nor the German government would comment Friday on the reported plot against Papperger. The Interior Ministry can’t comment on “individual threat situations,” spokesperson Maximilian Kall said, but he added that more broadly, “we take the significantly increased threat from Russian aggression very seriously.”
“We know that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s regime wants above all to undermine our support for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian war of aggression, but the German government won’t be intimidated,” Kall said.
He noted that German security measures have increased significantly since 2022 and that “the threats range from espionage and sabotage, through cyberattacks, to state terrorism.”
European officials gathered for the NATO summit in Washington this week spoke of dealing with an escalation of “hybrid” attacks that they blame on Russia and its allies.
That includes what authorities called suspicious recent fires at industrial and commercial sites in Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, Germany and other nations, and charges that Russia-allied Belarus was sending large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to the borders of Poland, Latvia and other countries belonging to NATO.
When asked at a news conference at the NATO summit Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he could not comment on the CNN report. He did note a widespread campaign by Russian security services to conduct “hostile actions” against NATO allies, including sabotage, cyberattacks and arson.
“These are not standalone instances. These are part of a pattern, part of an ongoing Russian campaign. And the purpose of this campaign is, of course, to intimidate NATO allies from supporting Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
In April, German investigators arrested two German-Russian men on suspicion of espionage, one of them accused of agreeing to carry out attacks on potential targets, including US military facilities, in hopes of sabotaging aid for Ukraine.
Germany has become the second-biggest supplier of weapons to Ukraine after the United States since Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report of a plan to kill Papperger. “All of this is again presented in the fake style, so such reports cannot be taken seriously,” he told reporters Friday.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Russian counterpart, Andrei Belousov, on Friday, their second call in less than a month, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh announced at a briefing Friday. The call was initiated by the Russian defense minister, Singh said.
She did not have further details to share, including whether the two leaders spoke about the accusations that Russia had attempted to assassinate top officials of Western defense firms producing weapons systems that are sent to Ukraine, but said “maintaining lines of communication is incredibly important right now.”


Nigeria school collapse kills 21, scores injured

Nigeria school collapse kills 21, scores injured
Updated 4 sec ago
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Nigeria school collapse kills 21, scores injured

Nigeria school collapse kills 21, scores injured
  • A local television station reported 12 deaths
  • “Approximately 120 people were trapped, with many evacuated,” Plateau Commissioner for Information Musa Ashoms said

JOS, Nigeria: A school in central Nigeria collapsed on Friday killing at least 21 people, mostly pupils as they were sitting their exams, the Red Cross and witnesses said.
Trapped pupils cried for help under the rubble as desperate parents looked for their children after the Saint Academy school in Jos North district of Plateau State fell in on classrooms, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.
Rescue workers tried to reach the victims with heavy machinery and images from the scene showed crowds gathering around a caved-in concrete building and heaps of debris.
Red Cross spokesman Nuruddeen Hussain Magaji told AFP there were “21 fatalities, and 69 injuries all in admission at various hospitals.”
Earlier, AFP saw 16 bodies in two hospital morgues in Jos. All were wearing school uniforms.
With his mother at his hospital bedside, injured pupil Wulliya Ibrahim, 15, told AFP: “I entered the class not more than five minutes, when I heard a sound, and the next thing is I found myself here.”
“We are many in the class, we are writing our exams,” he said.
Earlier, the National Emergency Management Agency said the two-story building housing Saint Academy collapsed killing “several students.”
Chika Obioha, a resident at the scene, told AFP he saw at least eight bodies at the site and that dozens more had been injured.
“Everyone is helping out to see if we can rescue more people,” he said.
AFP’s correspondent said he saw 11 bodies in the morgue at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital and that five dead were taken into the mortuary at the Our Lady of Apostles Hospital in Jos.
At least 15 rescued and injured pupils were admitted, officials at the Our Lady of Apostles Hospital said.
Officials at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital did not comment.
It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse but residents said it came after three days of heavy rains.
“Devastated by the tragic loss of young lives at Saint Academy,” UNICEF Nigeria representative Cristian Munduate wrote on X.
“Children, full of dreams were writing exams when the school building collapsed. Deepest condolences to families affected.”
Building disasters are fairly common in Africa’s most populous nation because of lax enforcement of construction standards, negligence and low-quality materials.
At least 45 people were killed in 2021 when a high-rise building under construction collapsed in the upscale Ikoyi district in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos.
Ten people were killed when a three-story building collapsed in the Ebute-Metta area of Lagos the year after.
Since 2005, at least 152 buildings have collapsed in Lagos, according to a South African university researcher investigating construction disasters.
Bad workmanship, low-grade materials and corruption to bypass official oversight are often blamed.
 

 


US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights

US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights
Updated 12 July 2024
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US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights

US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights
  • The State Department didn’t identify or give a number of those who would be denied visas
  • The US has kept up pressure on China, including by expanding restrictions on technology exports

WAHSINGTON: The United States said Friday it would keep denying visas to Chinese officials over human rights concerns in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere, vowing accountability despite a thaw in tensions between the powers.
Unlike previous high-profile actions against Chinese officials, the State Department did not identify or give a number of those who would be denied visas or specify if additional people were being blacklisted.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that United States was restricting visas to current or former officials “for their involvement in repression of marginalized religious and ethnic communities.”
Beijing “has not lived up to its commitments to respect and protect human rights, as demonstrated by the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, the erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, persistent human rights abuses in Tibet and transnational repression around the world,” he said in a statement.
He called on China to accept recommendations in the latest UN review of its rights record, including releasing citizens “it has arbitrarily and unjustly detained.”
Under previous president Donald Trump, the United States publicly named several officials who would be denied entry including Chen Quanguo, the architect of China’s hard-line policies in Tibet and then Xinjiang who has since retired.
Under President Joe Biden, the United States has kept up pressure on China, including by expanding restrictions on technology exports, but has also pursued dialogue to keep tensions in check.
The United States says that China is carrying out genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang, pointing to accounts of vast detention camps, allegations strongly rejected by Beijing.