New Zealand retained a state of emergency in parts of its flood-battered South Island on Sunday as authorities weighed damage in the region hardest hit by four days of torrential rain. Last week's rains in northern and central areas forced more than 500 people from their homes, making some uninhabitable. The South Island city of Nelson has been worst affected, but towns in the North Island have also been cut off by floods that swamped roads and homes. Authorities in the region around Nelson said there had been no serious weather incidents or evacuations overnight, however. "We are working as quickly as we can to get people home safely," emergency management officials said, adding that while they had looked at about half the affected properties, detailed inspections could need days, depending on the weather. "We have a big task, and inspecting for land instability is more complex than for flooding." While the extreme weather has eased, warnings against heavy rain stay in western Tasman and Fiordland on the South Island, forecaster Metservice said on its website. A state of emergency continues in the regions of Marlborough, West Coast and Nelson-Tasman, national emergency officials have said. "Listen to local authorities and follow any instructions to evacuate," the agency said on its website. "If you feel unsafe, you should self-evacuate." On Saturday, Kieran McAnulty, the emergency management minister, thanked rescuers but added that recovery would be a "long and difficult" process.
New Zealand police on Thursday confirmed that human remains found in two suitcases bought at an Auckland auction were of two primary school-aged children, with officers vowing to find those responsible. Detective Inspector Tofilau Faamanuia Vaaelua said the bodies were likely to have been in storage for several years and the victims are thought to have been between five and ten years old. The children were concealed in two suitcases of similar size, he said. "The nature of this discovery provides some complexities to the investigation especially given the time lapsed between the time of death and the time of discovery," Vaaelua added. The remains were only discovered when a family brought a trailer-load of items being sold in bulk from a storage unit. Police reiterated that the family concerned are not connected to the homicide, but are "understandably distressed by the discovery" and they have asked for privacy, Vaaelua added. Household and personal items found alongside the suitcases are helping provide clues to identify the victims. Both the storage unit and property where the suitcases were taken to have been thoroughly examined by forensic experts. Vaaelua also revealed that police in New Zealand are working with international criminal agency Interpol in their investigation. The relatives of the victims are thought to be in New Zealand. The children had not yet been identified and Vaaelua said he felt for their families, who might not be aware they were dead. "A lot of us (in the police) are parents and we have a job to do and we're doing our very best to identify the victims," he said. "What I can say is we are making very good progress with DNA inquiries. "The investigation team is working very hard to hold accountable the person or persons responsible for the death of these children."
The death toll from an explosion at a bustling market in the Armenian capital Yerevan rose to six on Monday as search operations continued for people believed trapped under rubble. Another 61 people were injured and 15 were missing after Sunday's blast that led to the collapse of a building at the Surmalu wholesale market, Armenia's Emergency Situations Minister Armen Pambukhchyan said. Rescue operations were continuing "very carefully" with people still believed to be trapped beneath the debris, he added. Pambukhchyan told reporters that video footage of the incident showed that "there can be no talk of a terrorist attack" as the fire started before the explosion. He said the fire spread to "pyro materials". Local media had earlier said the explosion went off at a place that stored fireworks. The cause of the fire was being established. The minister said that smoke and small fire could persist for several more days with lots of plastic smouldering at the scene. Photos and videos posted on social media after the blast showed a thick column of black smoke over the market and what appeared to be a series of detonations can be heard. Prosecutors meanwhile launched a probe into violations "on stocking inflammable goods", breaches in fire safety standards and the death of people "due to negligence". Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited the site of the blast on Monday, according to his press service. In all, 200 firefighters and medical workers were sent to the scene, as well as fire engines and construction site equipment. Rescue workers used a digger to clear away rubble, an AFP journalist at the scene reported earlier. The disaster comes as the country of three million people is still recovering from a 2020 war with Azerbaijan, which ended in a heavy defeat and sparked a political crisis.
Senegal on Sunday voted in parliamentary elections the opposition hopes will force a coalition with President Macky Sall and curb any ambitions he may hold for a third term. Sixty-year-old Sall, who was elected in 2012 for seven years then re-elected in 2019 for another five, has been accused of wanting to break the two-term limit and run again in 2024. He has remained vague on the subject, but any defeat of his supporters in the vote could upset such plans. Polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and close at 1800 GMT. By late morning, turnout appeared relatively low, according to AFP correspondents and observers. In Scat Urbam, a suburb near Dakar, far fewer voters than in past polls were waiting to cast their ballots. The situation was the same in the capital's working-class district of Grand Medine as well as in Ziguinchor, capital of the southern region of Casamance, according to AFP journalists. At the start of voting in the courtyard of a school in Mbao, near Dakar, around 100 mostly elderly people were preparing to vote. Police were also on hand to ensure security, an AFP journalist said. "I hope voting day goes off peacefully and there are no disputes," said Lamine Sylva, a 60-year-old artist. "It's like football -- there is a winner and a loser." Yahya Sall, a retired soldier, said he hoped the new parliament "will have a strong opposition presence... to advance democracy". The national election commission has deployed 22,000 observers nationwide. The single-round ballot will decide the 165 seats of the single-chamber parliament -- currently controlled by the president's supporters -- for the next five years. Lawmakers are elected according to a system that combines proportional representation, with national lists for 53 lawmakers, and majority voting in the country's departments for 97 others. The diaspora elects the remaining 15 members of parliament. This year, eight coalitions are in the running, including Yewwi Askan Wi (meaning "Liberate the People" in Wolof), the main opposition coalition. Its highest-profile member, Ousmane Sonko, came third in the 2019 presidential election. But he and other members of the coalition have been banned from running in Sunday's elections on technical grounds. The vote is taking place against a backdrop of rising prices, in part because of the war in Ukraine. The opposition has questioned the priorities of the government, which has highlighted its subsidies for oil products and food as well as infrastructure building. "Is the priority of the Senegalese to build beautiful stadiums, new highways while people are not eating to satiate their hunger?" Sonko said after casting his ballot in Ziguinchor. Raising the alarm over reports of low turnout, he called on voters to vote in numbers "to balance the powers". - Opposition collaboration - Ahead of the poll, Yewwi Askan Wi has joined forces with Wallu Senegal (which means "Save Senegal" in Wolof), led by former president Abdoulaye Wade. The two groups have agreed to work together to obtain a parliamentary majority and "force governmental cohabitation". They also want to force Sall to give up any hope of running in 2024. In local elections in March, the opposition won in major cities, including the capital Dakar, Ziguinchor in the south and Thies in the west. Sonko and other members of the Yewwi Askan Wi coalition were forbidden from running in Sunday's elections, after the authorities in early June tossed out its national list of candidates on technical grounds. One of the names had been accidentally put down both as a first-choice candidate and as an alternate candidate, thus invalidating the entire list. That sparked violent demonstrations that left at least three people dead. On June 29, the opposition finally agreed to take part in the elections, easing tensions.
Myanmar’s ruling military yesterday defended its execution of four democracy activists as “justice for the people”, brushing off a deluge of international condemnation including from its closest neighbours. The military, which seized power in a coup last year, announced on Monday it had executed the activists for aiding “terror acts” by a civilian resistance movement, Myanmar’s first executions in decades. Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said the men were given due process and insisted those executed were not democracy activists, but killers deserving of their punishment. “This was justice for the people. These criminals were given the chance to defend themselves,” he told a regular televised news briefing. “I knew it would raise criticism but it was done for justice. It was not personal.” News of the executions triggered international outrage, with the United States, Britain, Australia, the European Union and United Nations leading a chorus of condemnation accusing the junta of cruelty. Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbours issued a rare, stinging rebuke of the military yesterday, calling the executions “highly reprehensible” and destructive to regional efforts to de-escalate the crisis. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in a statement from chair Cambodia said it was “extremely troubled and deeply saddened by the executions”, as well as by their timing. “The implementation of the death sentences just a week before the 55th Asean ministerial meeting is highly reprehensible,” it said, adding it showed the junta’s “gross lack of will” to support Asean’s UN-backed peace plan. It was unclear how the executions were carried our and when they took place. Family members of the condemned prisoners said on Monday that they had not been informed of the executions beforehand, and had not been allowed to retrieve the bodies. Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said the return of the bodies was up to the prison chief. The executed men were among more than 100 people whom activists say have been sentenced to death in secretive trials by military-run courts since the coup. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said yesterday that his country viewed the executions as a crime against humanity. He also accused the junta of making a mockery of the Asean peace plan and said it should be barred from sending political representatives to any international ministerial level meetings. “We hope we have seen the last of the executions,” he said. “We will try to use whatever channels that we can to ensure this will not happen again.” UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said he was concerned the executions of junta opponents would not be a one-off. “There is every indication that the military junta intends to continue to carry out executions of those on death row, as it continues to bomb villages and detain innocent people throughout the country,” he said in an interview on Monday. In Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon, security was tightened at the jail where the four executed men had been held, a human rights group said yesterday, following the global outcry and a demonstration by inmates over the execution. Two sources told Reuters a protest had taken place in the jail. News portal Myanmar Now said some inmates had been assaulted by prison authorities and were separated from the general population. Spokespersons for Yangon’s Insein prison and the corrections department did not answer calls from Reuters. Myanmar’s shadow national Unity Government (NUG), which the junta calls “terrorists”, urged co-ordinated international action against the junta yesterday and said those executed “were martyred for their commitment to a free and democratic Myanmar”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia could cost thousands of New Zealand jobs, as her nation and neighbouring Australia stepped up border biosecurity restrictions. "While not a threat to humans, it would devastate our national herd. Essentially, all animals that are of cloven hoof are at risk," Ardern told reporters in Wellington. Ardern warned that the disease, first detected in Indonesia in April, has the potential to threaten up to 100,000 jobs in New Zealand's agriculture sector. Foot and mouth disease is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of livestock. It can have a significant economic impact, especially on a country like New Zealand which exported around 17 million sheep and two million cattle in the eight months up until May 2022. A foot-and-mouth outbreak has ripped through two Indonesian provinces, killing thousands of cows and infecting hundreds of thousands more. Ardern said New Zealand has never had an outbreak -- and wants to keep it that way by tightening border restrictions. "We want to make sure that we've got all our settings in place to protect ourselves from this emerging threat," she added. There are currently no direct flights from Indonesia to New Zealand, but Ardern said it is important to stop it from entering the country, potentially via Australian tourists who had visited south-east Asia. Travellers from Indonesia will not be allowed to bring meat products into New Zealand, baggage will be screened and there will be disinfectant mats at airports to clean footwear. In Australia, parcels and baggage from China and Indonesia are now being checked and there are also foot mats at airports in response to the disease. Canberra has so far rejected opposition calls to close the border to Indonesia completely, but further measures have not been ruled out. Ardern said her government is working with Australian authorities to try to further reduce the risk. New Zealand is set to fully open its borders at midnight on Sunday to all visitors. New Zealand's Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said "vigilance is absolutely crucial" as the disease could also affect up to 77 percent of the country's wildlife population, including wild deer, pigs and sheep. He referred to how foot and mouth devastated British farming in 2001 when millions of cattle and sheep had to be slaughtered.
A wild storm system moving yesterday across New Zealand is bringing swirling winds, surging waves and heavy rains to the capital Wellington and causing flooding in Christchurch. New Zealand’s Metservice announced a severe weather warning for Wellington and nearby regions, with winds of 130kph (80mph) and waves of 7m (23’) pounding the area. The weather has caused most flights into Wellington to be cancelled and the ferry services that connect the country’s two main islands to be suspended. Waves breaking onto some roads has forced them to close and one of the city’s beach suburbs has been cut off. The wild weather ripped up roads, caused flooding and power cuts, and high winds took the roof off a cafe in Lower Hutt. A badly damaged catamaran was seen floating in nearby Lowry Bay. The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) said that wind gusts had reached 158kph at Baring Point, a headland at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island near Wellington. Samuel Walsh, who farms in the Wairarapa region in the lower North Island, told 1News that the weather forced him to bring calves in out of the storm and rescue animals that were swimming in his flooded fields. Radio New Zealand was reporting long queues at Wellington Airport as people waited to see whether any flights would take off this afternoon. The airport said in a tweet that part of the problem was that high winds were making it unsafe for baggage handlers to work. A state of emergency has been in force in Timaru in the South Island since late on Wednesday because of the risk of flooding after a levee was damaged forcing the evacuation of nearby houses. In Christchurch, residents were having to deal with surface flooding and more than 300 households are without power after two power poles fell across the road, according to power company Orion Group.
Eighteen people were killed and 243 wounded during unrest in Uzbekistan's autonomous province of Karakalpakstan last week, Uzbek authorities said on Monday, the worst bout of violence in the Central Asian nation in 17 years. Security forces detained 516 people during the protests which broke out over plans to curtail Karakalpakstan's autonomy but have now released many of them, the national guard press office told a briefing. On Saturday, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev dropped plans to amend articles of the constitution concerning Karakalpakstan's sovereignty and its right to secede. He also declared a month-long state of emergency in the northwestern province. Official reports said protesters had marched through the provincial capital of Nukus last Friday and tried to seize local government buildings, triggering the deadliest unrest in almost two decades in the Central Asian nation of 34 million. According to the prosecutor general's office, 18 people died "from grave wounds" sustained during the clashes. Two exiled opposition politicians in contact with people on the ground told Reuters they believed the real figure was much higher. It was not possible to independently establish the death toll. Karakalpakstan, situated on the shores of the Aral Sea that has for decades been a site of environmental disaster, is home to Karakalpaks, an ethnic minority group whose language, although also Turkic, is distinct from Uzbek. "Karakalpaks are not Uzbeks... They have their own traditions, culture and law,” Aman Sagidullayev, the Norway-based leader of the Alga Karakalpakstan party which favours independence for Karakalpakstan, told Reuters, accusing the government of waging a "punitive operation”. A group of opposition politicians and activists who call themselves the government of Karakalpakstan in exile published an appeal to Mirziyoyev. In it, they called for the release of arrested demonstrators, the dissolution of the Karakalpak government and holding of new elections, and a review of the actions of law enforcement agencies including "the unjustified and disproportionate use of force that led to human victims, torture and arbitrary detention". They complained about discrimination against their language and the "silencing and distortion" of the region's history. Russia, with which ex-Soviet Uzbekistan has close ties, said the matter was Uzbekistan's domestic affair, while the European Union called for "an open and independent investigation into the violent events in Karakalpakstan". Mirziyoyev's office said separately he discussed the matter with EU Council President Charles Michel and said the unrest had been incited by "criminal elements". An exiled Uzbek opposition politician, Pulat Ahunov, told Reuters that the curfew imposed for the duration of the state of emergency and tight security seemed to have stabilised the situation but there was still a risk of ethnic clashes. An estimated 700,000 Karakalpaks live in Uzbekistan, most of them in the autonomous republic. Geographic and linguistic proximity has led many to seek work and sometimes relocate to neighbouring Kazakhstan. Some observers believe Tashkent's miscalculated attempt to curtail Karakalpakstan's autonomy - Mirziyoyev himself has criticised local MPs for not telling him about public opposition to it - was likely a pre-emptive move against potential separatism against the background of the Ukrainian conflict. In 2005, Uzbek security forces crushed armed protests in the city of Andizhan, with 173 people killed in the clashes, according to official reports. The government blamed the crisis in Andizhan - located in the opposite, eastern part of Uzbekistan - on Islamist extremists at the time.
A state of emergency was in force in Uzbekistan's autonomous Karakalpakstan region Sunday after eyewitnesses told AFP that police had broken up a second night of anti-government protests in the administrative centre Nukus. Strongman leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev was visiting the region for a second time in an attempt to calm a crisis that saw thousands take to the streets Friday and caused him to backpedal over draft constitutional amendments that would have weakened the republic's autonomy. Internet in the region remains restricted but a drip of videos, mostly shared via the Telegram app, has raised concerns that a security crackdown has left multiple people dead. Uzbek authorities have made no mention of any casualties so far, and lawmaker Bobur Bekmurodov complained of "shameless provocations" as internet users shared footage of men in uniform moving through a street covered in red liquid on Twitter. "Dear friends, please do not become part of this shameless provocation. Check the information. It is just red color water. Please, share the truth!" The size of the protest on Friday was unprecedented for the Karakalpakstan region and possibly Uzbekistan, which saw over 170 people killed during unrest in 2005 in the city of Andijan according to an official toll considered conservative at the time. Police said Saturday they had detained "organizers of riots" but did not provide figures. Two Nukus eyewitnesses speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed to AFP that a smaller group of protesters had gathered close to a city market before police broke up the demonstration using what appeared to be tear gas and smoke grenades. Mirziyoyev on Saturday ordered a month-long state of emergency in the region to "ensure the safety of citizens, protect their rights and freedoms (and) restore law and order". Eyewitnesses said Nukus was quiet on Sunday morning, with police and military patrolling the streets. Impoverished Karakalpakstan takes its name from the Karakalpak people. They are well represented in cities such as Nukus, but now constitute a minority overall in the western region of two million people. Mirziyoyev's press service said Saturday night that he had met with lawmakers of Karakalpakstan's parliament and pledged articles of the constitution concerning the region would remain unchanged "on the basis of... the opinions stated by residents of Karakalpakstan". The proposed changes that angered residents included an article removing the autonomous republic's constitutional right to secede from Uzbekistan via referendum. One amendment set to remain in the draft document will allow presidents to run for seven-year terms, directly benefitting 64-year-old Mirziyoyev, who crushed token opponents to secure a second five-year term in October. The draft constitution is expected to be put to a popular referendum in the coming months.
Dialogue between Myanmar’s junta and ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to end the bloody crisis unleashed by the toppling of her government last year is “not impossible”, a junta spokesman said yesterday. The southeast Asian nation has been in chaos since the putsch, with renewed fighting with ethnic rebel groups, dozens of ‘People’s Defence Forces’ springing up to fight the junta and the economy in tatters. Suu Kyi, 77, has been kept virtually incommunicado by the military and was recently transferred from house arrest to solitary confinement while she faces multiple trials that could see her sentenced to more than 150 years in jail. “There is nothing impossible in politics,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said when asked if the junta could enter into dialogue with Suu Kyi to resolve the turmoil. “We cannot say that (negotiations with Suu Kyi) are impossible.” “Several countries” had urged opening dialogue with the Nobel laureate, he said, without giving details. Diplomatic efforts led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) - of which Myanmar is a member - have so far failed to halt the bloodshed. Last year, the bloc agreed on a “five-point consensus”, which calls for a cessation of violence and constructive dialogue, but the junta has largely ignored it. Asean envoy and Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday for his second visit aimed at kickstarting dialogue between the junta and opponents to its rule. He met with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday and yesterday met with members of several political parties in the military-built capital Naypyidaw, a junta spokesman said. The junta has said he will not be allowed to visit Suu Kyi. “We have performed whatever she asked for related to her health and living situation,” Zaw Min Tun said regarding Suu Kyi’s new living conditions in prison. Dangling the prospect of dialogue would be “consistent with their (the junta’s)... political calculus”, independent Myanmar analyst David Mathieson said. “Punish to the extreme then show a sliver of conciliation to ensure they stay in power. Suu Kyi is potentially their way out, if they can overcome their hatred of her,” he said. Fighting continues across swathes of the country, with local media reporting killing and burning sprees by junta troops as they struggle to crush opposition to the coup. Almost 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the putsch, the United Nations said in May.
Some of the biggest viral hits on TikTok have been given the full orchestral treatment and will get a traditional release on CD and vinyl this summer, the platform announced Friday. The tie-up with Warner Classics is the first time TikTok has ventured into the traditional music market and will see the 18 songs released on streaming platforms as well as in record stores. Anyone who has spent any significant time on the video streaming platform will recognise songs such as "No Roots" by Alice Merton which has been used on 1.3 million videos. Or pleasant piano ditty "Pieces" by Danilo Stankovic, used by some 3.4 million TikTokkers. All have been given a full work-over by Germany's Babelsberg Film Orchestra. "Listening to No Roots in a new musical context is inspiring," Merton said in a statement. "I'm excited about the project and I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes to life." Some cuts reflect the strange tunes that can blow up on the platform, such as "Monkeys Spinning Monkeys", the upbeat, flute-filled ditty that makes perfect background music for many light-hearted videos (27.1 million and counting). "Wellerman Sea Shanty" harks back to the sea shanty craze that took over TikTok in early 2021 after a Scottish postman, Nathan Evans, recorded himself singing the 19th century folk song. It spread like wildfire, with Queen's Brian May and veteran composer Andrew Lloyd Webber among those offering their versions of the viral tune. Thirty-second clips of the 18 augmented songs were available for use on TikTok from Friday. Six full-length singles from the album will be released across streaming platforms on July 8, with the full album, "TikTok Classics: Memes and Viral Hits", hitting streamers and shops in August.
Ukraine's southern city of Mariupol is at risk of a major cholera outbreak as medical services are likely already near collapse, Britain's defence ministry said on Friday. There is likely also a critical shortage of medicines in Kherson, Britain's Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter update. Russia is struggling to provide basic public services to the population in Russian-occupied territories, it added. Last month, WHO's Ukraine Incident Manager, Dorit Nitzan, said Mariupol, which is now controlled by Russian forces after weeks of siege and heavy bombardment, was among occupied areas where there was a risk of cholera.
Russia's separatist proxies in eastern Ukraine claimed full control of the important battlefield town of Lyman on Friday, and Ukraine appeared to concede it, as Moscow presses its biggest advance for weeks. Lyman, site of a key railway hub, has been a major front line as Russian forces press down from the north, one of three directions from which they have been attacking Ukraine's industrial Donbas region. The pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic separatists said they were now in full control of it. Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, appeared to confirm the fall of Lyman in an interview overnight, and said the battle there showed that Moscow was improving its tactics. "According to unverified data, we lost the town of Lyman. The Russian army - this must be verified - captured it," Arestovych said in a video posted on social media. "Moreover, the way they captured it.... correctly organising the operation. This shows, in principle, the increased level of operational management and tactical skills of the Russian army. It has grown. It has not grown everywhere of course, but it has unquestionably grown." After being driven back from the capital Kyiv in March and from the outskirts of the second biggest city Kharkiv earlier this month, Russian forces are staging their strongest advance in weeks in the eastern Donbas region. Western military analysts say the battle there could prove decisive, depending on whether Russian forces can sustain the advance or run out of momentum. Further east, Russian forces have been trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lyshchansk, after breaking through Ukrainian lines further south in the city of Popasna last week. Popasna, reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, was a blasted wasteland of burnt-out highrise apartments and shattered municipal buildings. Russian tanks and other military vehicles tore through the rubble-strewn streets kicking up dust with their treads, and low-flying attack helicopters thundered overhead. The bloated body of a dead man in uniform lay in a courtyard. Natalia Kovalenko, a resident, had finally come up in recent days from the cellar where she had been sheltering, to sleep amid the wreckage of her own flat. The balcony had been blown away and windows blasted off by a direct hit from a shell. She stared out wistfully into the blasted courtyard, recounting how two people had been killed there and eight wounded by a shell when they went outside to cook. Inside her flat, her kitchen and living room were filled with rubble and debris, but she had tidied a small bedroom to sleep. She was tired of being trapped in the cellar with dogs and cats. "I just have to fix the window somehow. The wind is still bad. Cold at night," she said. "We are tired of being so scared. So tired." 'WHAT PRICE' In an overnight address, Zelenskiy criticised the European Union for taking too long to ban Russian energy imports, saying the bloc was sending Moscow a billion euros a day which was funding the Kremlin's war effort. He said some countries were blocking efforts to agree new sanctions, an apparent reference to Hungary, which has objected to an EU ban on Russian oil. "Pressure on Russia is literally a matter of saving lives. Every day of procrastination, weakness, various disputes or proposals to 'pacify' the aggressor at the expense of the victim merely means more Ukrainians being killed," he said. Western countries led by the United States have provided Ukraine with long-range weaponry, including M777 howitzers and Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark. Ukraine says it wants longer range ground weapons, especially rocket launchers, that can help it win an artillery battle against Russian forces in the east. It now looks likely to get them. U.S. officials say the Biden administration is even considering supplying Kyiv with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which can have a range of hundreds of kilometers. One concern that had held Washington back from supplying longer range arms in the past is the danger of escalation should Ukraine use them to hit targets deep within Russia. U.S. and diplomatic officials told Reuters Washington has held discussions with Kyiv about the issue. "We have concerns about escalation and yet still do not want to put geographic limits or tie their hands too much with the stuff we're giving them," said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington and Kyiv had a shared "understanding" about the use of certain Western-provided weapons: "So far, we've been on the same page about the thresholds." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that any supplies of weapons that could reach Russian territory would be a "a serious step towards unacceptable escalation". Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation" to defeat "Nazis" there. The West describes this as a baseless justification for a war of aggression.
A Myanmar junta court yesterday rejected an appeal by ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi against a five-year sentence for corruption handed down last week, according to a source with knowledge of the case. Since a coup ousted her government in February last year, plunging Myanmar into upheaval, Suu Kyi has been in military custody and faces a raft of charges that could jail her for more than 150 years. Last week the Nobel laureate was convicted of accepting a bribe of $600,000 cash and gold bars — a charge she said was “absurd”, according to her lawyer. An appeal filed by Suu Kyi’s legal team yesterday was “summarily dismissed without hearing from either side”, the source said. The 76-year-old Suu Kyi had already been sentenced to six years in jail for incitement against the military, breaching Covid-19 rules and breaking a telecommunications law. She will remain under house arrest at an unknown location in the military-built capital Naypyidaw while she fights other charges. A junta spokesman could not be reached for comment on the appeal decision. Suu Kyi also faces a raft of other trials, including for allegedly violating the official secrets act, several counts of corruption and electoral fraud. Journalists have been barred from attending the court hearings and Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been banned from speaking to the media. Last month Suu Kyi was forced to miss three days of hearings after being quarantined because of a Covid-19 case among her staff. Under a previous junta regime, Suu Kyi spent long spells under house arrest in her family mansion in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Today, she is confined to an undisclosed location in the capital, with her links to the outside world limited to brief pre-trial meetings with her lawyers.
Millions of people in Somalia are at risk of famine, with young children the most vulnerable to the worsening drought in the troubled Horn of Africa nation, UN agencies warned on Tuesday. "Somalia is facing famine conditions as a perfect storm of poor rain, skyrocketing food prices and huge funding shortfalls leaves almost 40 percent of Somalis on the brink," the agencies said in a statement. Many parts of Somalia are being ravaged by drought that has also taken hold in other countries in the region including Ethiopia and Kenya, but the UN agencies warned of a major funding shortfall to address the crisis and avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine. "We are literally about to start taking food from the hungry to feed the starving," the UN World Food Programme's Somalia representative El-Khidir Daloum said in a statement, describing the country as "on the cusp of a humanitarian catastrophe". Six million Somalis or 40 percent of the population are now facing extreme levels of food insecurity, according to a new report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, almost a two-fold increase since the beginning of the year, the agencies said. The joint statement by the WFP, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the humanitarian agency OCHA and the United Nations Children's Fund said "pockets of famine conditions" were likely in six areas of Somalia. They said children under the age of five were the most vulnerable, with access to food and milk scarce because of rising commodity prices and livestock issues. About 1.4 million children face acute malnutrition through the end of the year, with around one quarter facing severe acute malnutriton, the statement said. Together, humanitarian agencies had been able to supply aid to almost two million people but the UN warned of a "critical gap" in donor funding, with a 2022 plan seeking $1.5 billion reaching only 4.4 percent of the target. In the 2011 famine, 260,000 people -- half of them children under the age of six -- died of hunger or hunger-related disorders. Natural disasters -- not conflict -- have in recent years been the main drivers of displacement in Somalia, a war-torn nation that ranks among the world's most vulnerable to climate change.
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said that the number of children fleeing the Russian military escalation against Ukraine has reached more than 1.5 million children since the beginning of the crisis so far, an average of 55 children every minute. During a press conference in Geneva, Unicef Spokesperson James Elder stressed that this refugee crisis is unprecedented in terms of speed and scale since the World War II, noting that dozens of children were killed and many were injured. Ukrainian children arriving in neighbouring countries are at high risk of family separation, violence, exploitation, and trafficking, he explained, noting that the safest and fastest way out of this catastrophe is for this war to end now. Unicef Spokesperson called for stopping attacks on civilian areas and infrastructure, as they claim more lives and force people to forgo essential health services despite catastrophic needs, noting that the war is causing children to miss school and that there are still millions of children in conflict areas in Ukraine. Unicef continues sending essential supplies, as another convoy has recently arrived in Ukraine. This convoy consisted of 22 trucks with 168 tons of supplies, including midwifery kits, surgical kits, obstetric kits, oxygen concentrators, cold boxes, as well as blankets and winter clothes, water, sanitation and hygiene kits, in addition to early childhood education kits and adolescent kits.
Some 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded two weeks ago, and another two million have been internally displaced by the war, the United Nations said Friday. The UN Refugee Agency's chief Filippo Grandi blamed the mass displacement on what he called a "senseless war" that began on February 24. "The number of refugees from Ukraine, tragically, has reached today 2.5 million," Grandi tweeted. "We also estimate that about two million people are displaced inside Ukraine. Millions forced to leave their homes by this senseless war." Paul Dillon, spokesman for the UN's International Organization for Migration, said the 2.5 million people who had fled Ukraine included 116,000 nationals from other countries. The UNHCR had been working on the estimate that four million people may eventually seek to leave Ukraine as the war continues. But the agency said that given the scale of the exodus in less than three weeks, it would be no surprise if that figure was exceeded. "It is quite possible that that planning figure of four million might be revised up," UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh told reporters in Geneva, speaking via videolink from Poland, close to the Ukrainian border. He said the numbers of refugees was "certainly unprecedented since World War II". Before Russia invaded, more than 37 million people lived in Ukrainian territory under the control of the central government in Kyiv. More than half of those who have fled have gone to Poland. Poland's border guards announced Friday that 1.52 million people fleeing Ukraine had crossed the frontier, with a further 87,000 people doing so on Thursday. Poland has championed the cause of Ukrainian refugees. The government has set up reception centres and charities have mobilised in a massive aid effort, helped by the estimated 1.5 million Ukrainians already living in the EU member state. Polish border guards said Thursday that 140,000 people had crossed from Poland into Ukraine since the invasion. They largely fall into three categories: Ukrainian men working in Poland who returned to join the army, migrant workers returning to take care of relatives still in Ukraine, and recently-arrived refugees who have gone back for family reasons. Several thousand refugees, once they have crossed Ukraine's western borders, have headed on to other countries. Russian strikes hit civilian targets in central Ukraine's Dnipro city on Friday, as Moscow's troops edged closer to the capital Kyiv that, according to its Mayor Vitali Klitschko, has lost half of its estimated 3.5 million population since the war began. "UNHCR repeats its call for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure," Saltmarsh said. "We are committed to stay and deliver assistance when and where access and security allow."
New Zealand's tight Covid-19 bubble was once globally lauded but for local business, the strict border controls increasingly feel like a straitjacket as a lack on foreign workers and tourists squeezes the island nation's economy. Meat processors have cut production and a dearth of international visitors has some tourism operators worried they will have to close shop by the time borders reopen later this year. New Zealand's swift response to the pandemic, including the strict border controls, kept the country largely Covid-19 free until the end of last year, winning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government strong praise at home and abroad. But public anger over sustained domestic restrictions has since grown, reaching a climax last month during violent protests outside the nation's legislature in Wellington. A closely watched poll on Thursday showed support for Ardern's Labour Party at its lowest since 2017. That frustration has also broadened to the business community, who want the government to expedite its borders reopening. "The government has done an exceptional job of getting us to where we are but people are tired and just want to get on with it," said Jude Cathcart, who runs a bike tour company, The Jollie Biker, in New Zealand's South Island. Prior to the border closures, around 40% of Cathcart's customers were from Australia and she is keen to have them back. Under a plan announced before the Omicron variant became widespread, a staggered easing of border controls would only see New Zealand fully open to vaccinated travelers in October. But with Omicron now rampant in the community, business and agriculture see little value in staying shut off from the rest of the world and have increased calls to speed up the reopening. "The situation is getting dire (for the tourist sector)," said Lynda Keene, chief executive of the Tourism Export Council of New Zealand, saying while restrictions were once right, the world had moved on. New Zealand now averages 20,000 cases a day, out of a population of 5 million. While the infection rate has jumped, hospitalisations and deaths are still remarkably low by global standards. Since the start of the pandemic, the country has reported 208,000 infections and fewer than a hundred deaths. New Zealand derives much of its economic income from agriculture and tourism and the lack of foreign labour is a particular headache for those in the seafood, viticulture and horticulture sectors. Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive for the Meat Industry Association, said abattoirs had already been facing labour shortages because they couldn't bring in staff from the Pacific Islands or the Middle East. New local Covid-19 outbreaks are now adding to those labour headaches with infected staff having to isolate. "They can't source more labour," she said. "They're having to work at lower capacity." EARLY RELAXATION? Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's Covid-19 response minister, said on Wednesday he expected a decision would be made by the end of the month about easing border restrictions. The closure of border isolation facilities -– used for returning citizens and residents –- will start in April as vaccinated New Zealanders are now only required to isolate at home. More broadly, the challenges of Covid-19 in the community are starting to hit the economy, through supply-chain breakdowns, staff being forced into isolation and worried consumers. Logistical challenges, reduced food manufacturing capability and businesses having to take on more staff and pay for those off sick are adding to inflation pressures. Electronic card spending in February fell 7.8% from January and consumer confidence has fallen to below its trough during the 2008 global financial crisis. "It's the shock factor that you are likely going to get Covid in the next 12 months," said ANZ chief economist for New Zealand Sharon Zollner.
Explorers have found one of the most famous shipwrecks in history, Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, deep in the icy sea off Antarctica more than a century after it sank, they announced yesterday. Endurance was discovered at a depth of 3,008m (9,869ft) in the Weddell Sea, about 6km from where it was slowly crushed by pack ice in 1915. Shackleton went down in expeditionary legend through the epic escape he and his 27 companions then made, on foot and in boats. “We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance,” said Mensun Bound, the expedition’s director of exploration. “This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern,” he said in a statement. The expedition, organised by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, left Cape Town on February 5 with a South African icebreaker, hoping to find the Endurance before the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer. As part of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition between 1914 and 1917, Endurance’s crew was meant to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. But their three-masted sailship fell victim to the tumultuous Weddell Sea. Just east of the Larsen ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula, the timber vessel became ensnared in pack ice in January 1915. It was progressively crushed and then sank 10 months later. The crew first camped on the sea ice, drifting northwards until the ice cracked open, and then took to lifeboats. They sailed first to Elephant Island, a bleak and treeless place where most of the men were dropped off and set up a camp. Using just a sextant for navigation, Shackleton then took five others in the strongest and most seaworthy boat on a 1,300-km voyage to South Georgia, a British colony where there was a whaling station. Defying mountainous seas and freezing temperatures, the 17-day trek aboard the 6.9-m (22.4-ft) open boat is often considered one of the most remarkable achievements in maritime history. All 28 expedition members survived. The current-day explorers used underwater drones to find and film the shipwreck in the merciless Weddell Sea. Its swirling current sustains a mass of thick sea ice that can challenge even modern ice breakers. Shackleton himself described the site of the sinking as “the worst portion of the worst sea in the world”. The region remains one of the most difficult parts of the ocean to navigate. “This has been the most complex subsea project ever undertaken,” said Nico Vincent, the mission’s subsea project manager. The underwater drones produced stunningly clear images of the 44m-long ship. Amazingly, the helm has remained intact after more than a century underwater, with gear piled against the taffrail as if Shackleton’s crew had only just left it. The ship’s timbers, though damaged from the crush of ice that sank in, still hold together. A mast had snapped into two across the deck, and portholes hinted at what secrets may still lurk inside. Sea anemones, sponges and other small ocean life forms made their homes on the wreckage, but did not appear to have damaged it. “It’s quite remarkable just to see the pictures of that ship on the sea floor, equivalent to the discovery of the Titanic,” said Adrian Glover, a deep-sea biologist at Britain’s Natural History Museum. “It’s not a forgiving place, as Shackleton and others found out,” he told AFP. “The sea ice there can get very thick, very quickly, and crush a ship, or at least halt its progress.” An earlier mission in 2019 had failed to find the Endurance.
A total of 291,081 Ukrainians have fled to Romania since a Russian invasion on Feb. 24, including 29,636 on Monday, border police data showed on Tuesday. Of them, a little over 82,000 were still in Romania, including some 30,000 children. On Monday, the government approved legislation enabling Ukrainian children to enroll in Romanian schools.