18 Chinese among 22 dead in South Korea battery plant fire

Update 18 Chinese among 22 dead in South Korea battery plant fire
Firefighters work at the site of a burnt lithium battery manufacturing factory in Hwaseong, South Korea on June 24, 2024. (Yonhap via AP)
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Updated 24 June 2024
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18 Chinese among 22 dead in South Korea battery plant fire

18 Chinese among 22 dead in South Korea battery plant fire
  • Over 100 people were working in the factory when workers heard a series of explosions from the second floor
  • Initial investigations indicate that the fire spread in a matter of seconds, with toxic fumes quickly overwhelming workers in the area

HWASEONG, South Korea: Twenty-two people were killed in a massive fire at a South Korean lithium battery plant on Monday, most of them Chinese nationals, in one of the country’s worst factory disasters in years.

Over 100 people were working in the factory when workers heard a series of explosions from the second floor, where lithium-ion batteries were being inspected and packaged, firefighter Kim Jin-young told media.

In the massive blaze that ensued, 22 people were killed, including 20 foreign nationals — 18 Chinese, one from Laos, and one of unknown nationality, he said.

“Most of the bodies are badly burned so it will take some time to identify each one,” he said, adding that one person was still missing.

Initial investigations indicate that the fire spread in a matter of seconds, with toxic fumes quickly overwhelming workers in the area, said Cho Sun-ho head of the Gyeonggi fire department.

“White smoke began to rise from a battery part, and it took only about 15 seconds to cover the entire space due to the sudden ignition,” he said, adding that as it was a lithium fire, the workers’ efforts to extinguish wouldn’t have worked.

“It is presumed that the victims inhaled toxic fumes in a short time which would have suffocated them quickly, and made them lose consciousness,” he said.

Dozens of fire trucks were lined up outside the factory, an AFP reporter saw, with rescue workers carrying bodies, covered by blue blankets, out of the building on stretchers.

Wearing a green jacket which top officials don during emergencies, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol visited the disaster site late Monday, walking around the charred building in a hard hat and facemask before greeting firefighters at the scene.

Yoon said it appeared that “ignition material was positioned in front of the emergency exit, so workers could not escape and many people died.”

He ordered authorities to check similar factories that handle chemicals and take “measures to prevent such accidents from happening again.”

The vast factory had an estimated 35,000 battery cells on the second floor in storage, with more batteries stored in other areas, the fire department said. The bodies were found in that area.

Lithium batteries burn hot and fast, and are difficult to control with conventional fire extinguishing methods.

“Due to fears of additional explosions, it was difficult to enter,” the building initially, the fire department’s Kim said, describing the tricky rescue operation.

“As it is a lithium battery manufacturer, we (had) determined that spraying water will not extinguish the fire, so we (used) dry sand,” he added.

The lithium battery plant is owned by Aricell, a South Korean primary battery manufacturer. It is located in Hwaseong city, just south of the capital Seoul.

Shares of Aricell’s parent company, S-connect, plunged by over 20 percent on the Seoul exchange by close Monday. S-connect owns 96 percent of Aricell.

Lithium batteries are used in everything from laptops to electric vehicles — but can be highly explosive, with airlines, for example, imposing strict regulations on checking devices containing them.

Images shared by Yonhap after the fire broke out showed huge plumes of billowing grey smoke rising into the sky above the factory, with orange flames inside the building.

As the fire was blazing Monday, authorities in Hwaseong sent out a series of alerts to residents warning them to stay inside.

“There is a lot of smoke due to factory fires. Please pay attention to safety, such as refraining from going out,” one alert sent by text message said.

“Factory fire. Please detour to surrounding roads and nearby citizens please close windows,” another one read.

South Korea is a major producer of batteries, including those used in electric vehicles.

Its battery makers supply EV makers around the world, including Tesla.

The fire is one of South Korea’s worst factory disasters in years.

Previously, it’s worst chemical plant accident was in 1989 at the Lucky Chemical factory in Yeosu, Southern Jeolla Province, which resulted in 16 deaths and 17 injuries.

In 2011, three workers died in the explosion of oil mist at an HDC Hyundai EP plant in the southeastern city of Ulsan, while in 2012, eight people were killed after a chemical solvent drum can exploded at an LG Chem plant in the central city of Cheongju, Yonhap reported.


Blinken points to wider pledges to support Ukraine in case US backs away under Trump

Blinken points to wider pledges to support Ukraine in case US backs away under Trump
Updated 7 sec ago
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Blinken points to wider pledges to support Ukraine in case US backs away under Trump

Blinken points to wider pledges to support Ukraine in case US backs away under Trump
  • Blinken for the first time directly addressed the possibility that Donald Trump would back away from US commitments to Ukraine if he becomes president again
  • Concerns among Ukraine and its supporters that the country could lose vital US support have increased as Trump’s campaign surges and Biden’s falters

ASPEN, Colorado: Ukraine is on its way to being able to “stand on its own feet” militarily, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday, noting that more than 20 other countries have pledged to maintain their own military and financial aid to the country even if the US were to withdraw its support under a different president.
Blinken for the first time directly addressed the possibility that former President Donald Trump could win the November election and back away from commitments to Ukraine. The US, under President Joe Biden, has been the most important supporter of Ukraine’s more than two-year battle against invading Russian forces.
Trump’s public comments have varied between criticizing US backing for Ukraine’s defense and supporting it, while his running mate, Sen. JD Vance, has been a leader of Republican efforts to block what have been billions in US military and financial assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in 2022.
Concerns among Ukraine and its supporters that the country could lose vital US support have increased as Trump’s campaign surges and Biden’s falters.
Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone Friday.
“I noted the vital bipartisan and bicameral American support for protecting our nation’s freedom and independence,” Zelensky wrote on X, saying they agreed “to discuss at a personal meeting what steps can make peace fair and truly lasting.”
Trump said on his social media platform that he appreciated Zelensky’s outreach and promised to “end the war that has cost so many lives and devastated countless innocent families.”
Blinken said Friday that any new administration would have to take into account strong bipartisan backing in Congress for Ukraine in the interests of countering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to expand Moscow’s territory and influence.
“Every administration has an opportunity, of course, to set its own policy. We can’t lock in the future,” Blinken said, speaking to an audience of US policymakers and others at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
But he pointed to the security agreements that the United States and more than 20 other allies — including some NATO partners, Japan and the European Union — signed at a NATO summit in Washington this month.
“Were we to renege on that ... I suppose that’s possible, but happily we’ve got another 20 some-odd countries that are doing the same thing,” Blinken said.
Ukraine itself was on a trajectory to ensure it “stands on its own feet militarily, economically, democratically,” Blinken said.


Trump says he had ‘very good call’ with Ukraine’s Zelensky, pledges to end war

Trump says he had ‘very good call’ with Ukraine’s Zelensky, pledges to end war
Updated 30 min 9 sec ago
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Trump says he had ‘very good call’ with Ukraine’s Zelensky, pledges to end war

Trump says he had ‘very good call’ with Ukraine’s Zelensky, pledges to end war
  • “Both sides will be able to come together and negotiate a deal that ends the violence and paves a path forward to prosperity,” Trump said in his Truth Social post
  • In his post on X, Zelensky said he congratulated Trump on becoming the Republican nominee and condemned the assassination attempt on him last week

WASHINGTON: US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in a post on Truth Social that he had a “very good call” on Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and pledged to end the war pitting Kyiv against Moscow through negotiations.
Zelensky also reported his conversation with Trump and expressed thanks for US military assistance. But he made no reference in a post on social media platform X to efforts to end the 28-month-old conflict.
Trump has said he will end the war in Ukraine before he even takes office in January should he win the Nov. 5 election. He has also said that had he been in office when the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, the war would not have taken place.
In his Truth Social post, Trump said that as president he “will bring peace to the world and end the war that has cost so many lives.”
“Both sides will be able to come together and negotiate a deal that ends the violence and paves a path forward to prosperity,” Trump said.

Though Trump has put forward few tangible policy proposals, he told Reuters in an interview last year that Ukraine might have to cede some territory to reach a peace agreement.
In his post, Zelensky said he congratulated Trump on becoming the Republican nominee and condemned the assassination attempt on him last week.
“I wished him strength and absolute safety in the future,” Zelensky said.
“I noted the vital bipartisan and bicameral American support for protecting our nation’s freedom and independence.”

Ukraine, he said, “will always be grateful to the United States for its help in strengthening our ability to resist Russian terror. Russian attacks on our cities and villages continue every day.”
Zelensky rejects any negotiations with Russia on ending the conflict as long as Russian troops remain in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president has proposed a peace plan, showcased again at a “world summit” last month to which Russia was not invited, that calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops and the restoration of Ukraine’s 1991 post-Soviet borders.
Russian troops occupy about 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. Moscow’s forces have made incremental gains in the east of the country along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front since capturing the key city of Avdiivka in February.


CrowdStrike: cybersecurity giant behind global outage

CrowdStrike: cybersecurity giant behind global outage
Updated 19 July 2024
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CrowdStrike: cybersecurity giant behind global outage

CrowdStrike: cybersecurity giant behind global outage
  • The company’s share price was down by about 12 percent on Wall Street on Friday

WASHINGTON: CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity company behind a massive global IT outage, is the leader in its sector, known for building software defenses for the cloud computing age and exposing Russian and North Korean threats.
Based in Austin, Texas, the company was founded in 2011 by George Kurtz, Dmitri Alperovitch and Gregg Marston.
Both Kurtz and Alperovitch had extensive backgrounds in cybersecurity, working at companies like McAfee.
Two years after its founding, CrowdStrike launched its signature product, the Falcon platform.
Crucially, the company embraced a “cloud-first” model to reduce big computing needs on customers and provide more effective protection.
In particular, remote computing enables updates to be carried out quickly and regularly, something that failed spectacularly in Friday’s outage when an update proved incompatible with computers running on Microsoft software.
Rather than just focusing on malware and antivirus products, the founders wanted to shift attention to identifying and stopping the attackers themselves and their techniques.
“CrowdStrike is one of the best-known cybersecurity companies around,” said Michael Daniel, who worked as the White House cybersecurity coordinator during the Barack Obama administration.
“It provides typically what we think of as sort of endpoint protection, meaning that it’s actually got software running on a server, or on a particular device, like a laptop or a desktop, and it’s scanning for potential malware connections to bad domain names,” he said.
“It’s looking for behavior that might be unusual — that sort of thing,” said Daniel, who now runs the Cyber Threat Alliance.
A report published this year by CrowdStrike estimates that 70 percent of attacks do not include viruses, but were rather manipulations carried out directly by hackers, who often use stolen or recovered credentials.
The company’s share price was down by about 12 percent on Wall Street on Friday.
CrowdStrike became a publicly traded company in 2019, and in 2023 the group generated sales of $3.05 billion, up 36 percent year-on-year.
Boosted by the wave of so-called generative AI, which requires the development of additional capabilities in the cloud, CrowdStrike raised its annual forecasts in June.
Although its business has been booming, the group is still struggling with profitability.
In 2023, it recorded a net profit of just $89 million, its first annual profit since its creation.
The company’s main competitors are Palo Alto Networks and SentinelOne, both standalone cybersecurity firms.
But cloud computing giants Microsoft, Amazon and Google provide their own cybersecurity software and are also rivals.
CrowdStrike, which is also a cyber intelligence company, made headlines when it helped investigate several high-profile cyberattacks.
Most famously, in 2014, CrowdStrike discovered evidence linking North Korean actors to the hacking of servers at Sony Pictures.
The hackers stole large amounts of data and threatened terrorist acts against movie theaters to prevent the release of “The Interview,” a comedy about North Korea’s leader.
The studio initially canceled the movie’s theatrical release, but reversed its decision after criticism.
Sony estimated the direct costs of the hack to be $35 million for investigating and remediating the breach.
CrowdStrike also helped investigate the 2015-2016 cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the United States and their connection to Russian intelligence services.
In December 2016, CrowdStrike released a report stating that a Russian government-affiliated group called Fancy Bear had hacked a Ukrainian artillery app, potentially causing significant losses to Ukrainian artillery units in their fight against Moscow-backed separatists.
However, this assessment was later disputed by some organizations and CrowdStrike rolled back some of the claims.
In recent months, CrowdStrike has criticized Microsoft for its lapses on cybersecurity as the Windows maker admitted to vulnerabilities and hackings by outside actors.
Among other criticisms, CrowdStrike slammed Microsoft for still doing business in China.
“You’re telling the public they can’t use Huawei, and they can’t let kids watch dance videos on TikTok because China is going to collect intelligence,” Shawn Henry, chief security officer at CrowdStrike, said last year.
“Yet, the most ubiquitous software, which is used throughout the government and throughout every single corporation in this country and around the world, has engineers in China working on their software,” Henry told Forbes.


Exhausted migrants arrive on beach in Spain’s Canaries

Exhausted migrants arrive on beach in Spain’s Canaries
Updated 19 July 2024
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Exhausted migrants arrive on beach in Spain’s Canaries

Exhausted migrants arrive on beach in Spain’s Canaries
  • After reaching the beach lined with hotels, many migrants lay on the sand, looking frail and exhausted

MADRID: Dozens of exhausted migrants arrived in a wooden boat on a beach in Spain’s Canary Islands early on Friday amid a sharp rise in perilous crossings from Africa, with emergency personnel and a few stunned beachgoers rushing to help.
The boat carrying 64 people made it to the Las Burras beach on the island of Gran Canaria by its own means, authorities said.
Eleven migrants were taken to hospitals, some by helicopter, as four were in critical condition.
The number of migrants arriving irregularly by sea to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean soared by 160 percent between January and July 15 from a year ago, totaling almost 20,000 people, according to Spain’s interior ministry. Overall arrivals by sea to Spain, including across the mainland, grew by 88 percent to around 25,300 people.

FASTFACT

The route from Africa to the Canary Islands is the fastest-growing migration route in Europe.

After reaching the beach lined with hotels, many migrants lay on the sand, looking frail and exhausted. One lay flat and almost motionless. Many struggled to walk.
Emergency personnel handed the migrants yellow foil blankets while some were on stretchers.
A police officer held a baby in his arms as he stood next to a woman being attended by medics.
Beachgoers, including children, looked on while one tourist handed her water bottle to a migrant.
The route from Africa to the Canary Islands is the fastest-growing migration route in Europe, with irregular crossings up 303 percent from January to May from a year ago, according to the latest data from European border control agency Frontex.
Another boat, carrying 145 migrants, was rescued on Friday near Gran Canaria, authorities said.

 


Biden pushes party unity as he resists calls to step aside, says he’ll return to campaign next week

Biden pushes party unity as he resists calls to step aside, says he’ll return to campaign next week
Updated 19 July 2024
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Biden pushes party unity as he resists calls to step aside, says he’ll return to campaign next week

Biden pushes party unity as he resists calls to step aside, says he’ll return to campaign next week
  • More Democratic members of Congress called for president to drop out Friday

WASHINGTON DC: A growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers called Friday for President Joe Biden to drop his reelection bid, even as the president insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign trail next week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Republican Donald Trump.
As more Democratic members of Congress called for him to drop out Friday — bringing the total since his disastrous debate against Trump to at least 30 — Biden remained isolated at his beach house in Delaware after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The president, who has insisted he can beat Trump, was huddling with family and relying on a few longtime aides as he resisted efforts to shove him aside.
Biden said Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention showcased a “dark vision for the future.” The president, seeking to move the political conversation away from his fate and onto his rival’s agenda, said Friday he was planning to return to the campaign trail next week and insisted he has a path to victory over Trump, despite the worries of some of his party’s most eminent members.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
Earlier in the day, his campaign chair, Jen O’Malley Dillion, acknowledged “slippage” in support for the president but insisted he’s “absolutely” remaining in the race and the campaign sees “multiple paths” to beating Trump.
“We have a lot of work to do to reassure the American people that, yes, he’s old, but he can win,” she told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show. She said voters concerned about Biden’s fitness to lead aren’t switching to vote for Trump.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee’s rulemaking arm held a meeting Friday, pressing ahead with plans for a virtual roll call before Aug. 7 to nominate the presidential pick, ahead of the party’s convention later in the month in Chicago.
“President Biden deserves the respect to have important family conversations with members of the caucus and colleagues in the House and Senate and Democratic leadership and not be battling leaks and press statements,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, Biden’s closest friend in Congress and his campaign co-chair, told The Associated Press.
It’s a pivotal few days for the president and his party: Trump has wrapped up an enthusiastic Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Thursday. And Democrats, racing time, are considering the extraordinary possibility of Biden stepping aside for a new presidential nominee before their own convention.
Among the democrats expressing worries to allies about Biden’s chances were former President Barack Obama and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, who has privately told Biden the party could lose the ability to seize control of the House if he doesn’t step aside.
New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich called on Biden to exit the race, making him the third Senate Democrat to do so.
“By passing the torch, he would secure his legacy as one of our nation’s greatest leaders and allow us to unite behind a candidate who can best defeat Donald Trump and safeguard the future of our democracy,” said Heinrich, who’s up for reelection.
And Reps. Jared Huffman, Mark Veasey, Chuy Garcia and Mark Pocan, representing a wide swath of the caucus, together called on Biden to step aside.
“We must defeat Donald Trump to save our democracy,” they wrote.
Separately, Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois wrote in an op-ed that with “a heavy heart and much personal reflection” he, too, was calling on Biden to “pass the torch to a new generation.”
Campaign officials said Biden was even more committed to staying in the race. And senior West Wing aides have had no internal discussions or conversations with the president about dropping out.
On Friday, Biden picked up a key endorsement from the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. CHC BOLD PAC said the Biden administration has shown “unwavering commitment” to Latinos and “the stakes couldn’t be higher” in this election.
But there is also time to reconsider. Biden has been told the campaign is having trouble raising money, and key Democrats see an opportunity as he is away from the campaign for a few days to encourage his exit. Among his Cabinet, some are resigned to the likelihood of him losing in November.
The reporting in this story is based in part on information from almost a dozen people who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive private deliberations. The Washington Post first reported on Obama’s involvement.
Biden, 81, tested positive for COVID-19 while traveling in Las Vegas earlier this week and experienced “mild symptoms” including “general malaise” from the infection, the White House said.
White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but that his COVID symptoms had improved.
In Congress, Democratic lawmakers have begun having private conversations about lining up behind Harris as an alternative. One lawmaker said Biden’s own advisers are unable to reach a unanimous recommendation about what he should do. More in Congress are considering joining the others who have called for Biden to drop out. Some prefer an open process for choosing a new presidential nominee.
“It’s clear the issue won’t go away,” said Vermont Sen. Peter Welch, the other Senate Democrat who has publicly said Biden should exit the race. Welch said the current state of party angst — with lawmakers panicking and donors revolting — was “not sustainable.”
However, influential Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries are sending signals of concern.
“There is of course work to be done, and that in fact is the case because we are an evenly divided country,” Jeffries said in an interview on WNYC radio Friday.
But he also said, “The ticket that exists right now is the ticket that we can win on. ... It’s his decision to make.”
To be sure, many want Biden to stay in the race. But among Democrats nationwide, nearly two-thirds say Biden should step aside and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. That sharply undercuts Biden’s post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him.
Amid the turmoil, a majority of Democrats think Vice President Kamala Harris would make a good president herself.
A poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 6 in 10 Democrats believe Harris would do a good job in the top slot. About 2 in 10 Democrats don’t believe she would, and another 2 in 10 say they don’t know enough to say.