• New Zealand ship brings 250,000 litres of water • Australian, New Zealand ships due in coming days • UN says Tonga has asked for urgent assistance • Astronaut saw volcanic ash from space Life-saving water supplies from a New Zealand navy ship were distributed across Tonga’s main island yesterday, as other countries battled the logistics of delivering aid to one of the world’s remotest communities. Six days after the South Pacific archipelago was devastated by a volcanic eruption and tsunami that deposited a blanket of ash and polluted its water sources, the HMNZS Aotearoa docked in the capital, Nuku’alofa. The ship carried 250,000 litres of water and desalination equipment able to produce 70,000 litres more per day, New Zealand’s High Commission said. “Trucks ... have begun collecting and delivering water supplies from Aotearoa,” the Commission said on its Facebook page. The first flights from Australia and New Zealand landed on Thursday with some water as well as shelter, communication equipment and generators. On Thursday, an Australian flight was forced to return to base because of a positive Covid-19 case onboard, while yesterday technical problems delayed one of two Japanese C-130 transporters carrying 5,000 litres of drinking water, Japan’s Self-Defence Forces said. Underlining the complexity of mounting a contactless international aid operation to one of the few countries free of Covid-19, the Australian plane was turned around mid-flight after PCR tests showed a positive result, an Australian defence spokeswoman told Reuters. All crew had earlier returned negative rapid antigen tests, she said. The supplies were moved to another flight that took off on Friday. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption last Saturday triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages and resorts and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000 people. Three people have been reported killed, authorities said. The salt water from the tsunami spoiled most sources of water and Tongans have been struggling to find clean water as they clear away the ash. “We are cleaning the ash and have been since Monday,” said Branko Sugar, 61, who runs a bottle shop and fishing charter business from Nuku’alofa. “Everything is so dusty, and we are running out of water,” he said over a patchy telephone line. “We only have the tap water, and it’s been contaminated. We... can hardly breathe for all the dust.” Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has said the force of the eruption was estimated to be equivalent to 5-10 megatons of TNT, or more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Astronaut Kayla Barron said she could see the volcanic ash in the atmosphere from the International Space Station. “I opened the window shutter to see if we could see any effects of the eruption, and saw this dramatic, high-altitude plume blocking out the sun,” Barron said on Facebook. Nasa released photographs showing a huge grey smudge over the blue Pacific. United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told a briefing Tonga had asked for urgent assistance. “We remain seriously concerned about access to safe water for 50,000 people ... Water quality testing continues, and most people are relying on bottled water,” he said, speaking before the Aotearoa arrived. Dujarric said there were reports of fuel shortages, while some 60,000 Tongans have been affected by damage to crops, livestock and fisheries due to ashfall, saltwater intrusion and the potential for acid rain. Many have turned to social media to post images of the destruction by the tsunami and give accounts of their shock after the massive explosion, while tales of incredible escapes from the disaster have also emerged. Sea-borne assistance was also en route for the archipelago. Australia’s HMAS Adelaide was due in Tonga next week after leaving Brisbane. Reliance, a repair ship due to reconnect the undersea cable that links Tonga to international telecoms networks, left its Port Moresby mooring and was expected in Tonga on Jan. 30, according to Refinitiv data on shipping movements. The Reliance’s operator, SubCom, did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for confirmation. Telephone links between Tonga and the outside world were reconnected late on Wednesday, although restoring full Internet services is expected to take a month or more. Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk asked in a post on Twitter if Tongans would like help from his Starlink project, which provides Internet connection through satellites.
Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family from their home in a flashpoint East Jerusalem neighbourhood yesterday before a digger tore down the property, prompting criticism from rights activists and diplomats. Resident Mahmoud Salhiyeh took to the roof of the house in Sheikh Jarrah on Monday, threatening to blow it up with gas canisters if he and his family — who he said have lived there for decades — were forced out. Family members and activists maintained a vigil inside and on top of the building until armed police cleared the site before dawn yesterday. A mechanical digger then demolished the property, leaving behind a mound of rubble and personal effects that was removed some hours later. Police said several people were arrested “on suspicion of violating a court order, violent fortification and disturbing public order.” Jerusalem municipal authorities had expropriated the plot on which the house stood, which lies in a tree-lined area of East Jerusalem north of the Old City walls that Israel captured and occupied in a war in 1967 and later annexed. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, but Palestinians claim the east of the city as the capital of a future state. Mohamed Salhiyeh, a relative, said he had been unable to contact Mahmoud or anyone else who lived in the house. “Their phones are all off, we can’t reach them,” he told Reuters. He said the evicted family had made no plans to relocate. Police and the Jerusalem municipality said the family had been given “countless opportunities” to hand over the land since an evacuation order was served in 2017. It said authorities were enforcing a court-approved eviction order of “illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school”. Sheikh Jarrah has seen clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinian families facing eviction, turning it into an emblem of what Palestinians regard as an Israeli campaign to force them out of East Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called yesterday’s demolition a “war crime” and urged Washington the United States to “compel the government of the Israeli occupation to stop the policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people, according to a statement published by the official WAFA news agency. One international activist who watched the early morning demolition said: “I am devastated. You see livelihoods being destroyed in front of your eyes.” The site is across from the British Consulate in East Jerusalem, which said on Monday that evictions in occupied territory, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, were against international humanitarian law. It urged the Israeli government to “cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground.”
Tonga's small outer islands suffered extensive damage from a massive volcanic eruption and tsunami, with an entire village destroyed and many buildings missing, a Tongan diplomat said on Tuesday, raising fears of more deaths and injuries. "People panic, people run and get injuries. Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case," Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, told Reuters. Tu’ihalangingie said images taken by New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) reconnaissance flights showed "alarming" scenes of a village destroyed on Mango island and buildings missing on nearby Atata island. Tonga police told the New Zealand High Commission that the confirmed death toll stood at two but with communications in the South Pacific island nation cut, the true extent of casualties was not clear. Australia's Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said Tongan officials were hoping to evacuate people from the isolated, low-lying Ha'apai islands group and other outer islands where conditions were "very tough, we understand, with many houses being destroyed in the tsunami". The United Nations had earlier reported a distress signal was detected in Ha'apai, where Mango is located. The Tongan navy reported the area was hit by waves estimated to be 5-10 metres (15-30 feet) high, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Atata and Mango are between about 50 and 70 km from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, which sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard some 2,300 km (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand when it erupted on Saturday. Atata has a population of about 100 people and Mango around 50 people. "It is very alarming to see the wave possibly went through Atata from one end to the other," said Tu’ihalangingie. The NZDF images, which were posted unofficially on a Facebook site and confirmed by Tu’ihalangingie, also showed tarpaulins being used as shelter on Mango island. British national Angela Glover, 50, was killed in the tsunami as she tried to rescue the dogs she looked after at a rescue shelter, her brother said, the first known death in the disaster. CLEARING THE RUNWAY A thick layer of ash blankets the islands, the aerial images provided to Tonga by New Zealand and Australia showed. The archipelago's main airport, Fua’amotu International Airport, was not damaged in Saturday's eruption and tsunami but heavy ashfall is preventing full operations, hampering international relief efforts. The U.N. humanitarian office said Tongan officials had said that clearing the runway would take days, as it was being done manually, with the earliest opening Wednesday. People on the west coast of the main island of Tongatapu had been evacuated because of "significant damage", OCHA added in an update, while government ministers had broadcast warnings on radio against price gouging amid worries of supply shortages. The New Zealand's foreign ministry said two ships, HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, had departed New Zealand carrying bulk water supplies, survey teams and a helicopter. Tonga is expected to set out its formal requests for aid today, said Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne. C-130 flights from Australia could deliver humanitarian assistance including water purification supplies, she said, while the HMAS Adelaide, which would take five days to arrive by sea, was ready to carry engineering and medical personnel and helicopter support for distribution. "The impact not just of the inundation, but of the extraordinary volume of ash which is covering everything, plus the communications issues, of course, makes this very difficult," she said. International mobile phone network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on the main island using the University of South Pacific’s satellite dish, New Zealand said. ANZ said the bank's Nuku’alofa branch is open for limited services, although clean water supply and communication were a major challenge for the bank. CUT CABLE The archipelago has remained largely cut off from the world since the eruption which cut its main undersea communications cable. Subcom, a U.S. based private company contracted to repair various subsea cables in the Asia-Pacific, said it was working with Tonga Cable Ltd to repair the cable that runs from Tonga to Fiji. Samiuela Fonua, the chair of Tonga Cable, said there were two cuts in the undersea cable that would not be fixed until volcanic activity ceased, allowing repair crews access. "The condition of the site is still pretty messy at the moment," Fonua told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. The island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, all but disappeared following the blast, according to satellite images taken about 12 hours later, making it difficult for volcanologists to monitor activity. Tonga is a kingdom of 176 islands, of which 36 are inhabited, with a population of 104,494 people.
* Australia, NZ send reconnaissance flights to Tonga * Red Cross says scale of devastation could be immense * One British woman missing * Ash clouds from eruption moving towards NZ, Australia Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights on Monday to assess damage in Tonga, isolated from the rest of the world after the eruption of a volcano that triggered a tsunami and blanketed the Pacific island with ash. Australia's Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said initial reports suggested no mass casualties from Saturday's eruption and tsunami but Australian police had visited beaches and reported significant damage with "houses thrown around". "We know there is some significant damage, and know there is significant damage to resorts," he said in an interview with an Australian radio station, adding that Tonga's airport appeared to be in relatively good condition. One British woman was reported missing, he said. Tonga's deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu'ihalangingie, said the surveillance flights were expected to return on Monday evening. He asked for patience as Tonga's government decides its priorities for aid. Tonga is concerned about the risk of aid deliveries spreading Covid-19 to the island, which is Covid-free. "We don't want to bring in another wave - a tsunami of Covid-19," he told Reuters by telephone. "When people see such a huge explosion they want to help," he said, but added Tonga diplomats were also concerned by some private fundraising efforts and urged the public to wait until a disaster relief fund was announced. Any aid delivered to Tonga would need to be quarantined, and it was likely no foreign personnel would be allowed to disembark aircraft, he said. The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano triggered a tsunami on the shores of Tonga and cut off phone and internet lines for the entire island. International communication has been severely hampered by damage to an undersea cable, which could take more than a week to restore, he said. Tonga's cabinet was meeting to decide what help was most urgently needed. Telephone networks in Tonga have been restored but ash was posing a major health concern, contaminating drinking water. "Most people are not aware the ash is toxic and bad for them to breath and they have to wear a mask," Tu'ihalangingie said. The Ha’atafu Beach Resort, on the Hihifo peninsula, 21 km west of the capital Nuku’alofa, was "completely wiped out”, the owners said on Facebook. The family that manages the resort had run for their lives through the bush to escape the tsunami, it said. "The whole western coastline has been completely destroyed along with Kanukupolu village,” the resort said. British woman Angela Glover was missing after she was washed away by a wave when she and her husband, James, who own the Happy Sailor Tattoo in Nuku'alofa, had gone to get their dogs. The husband managed to hold onto a tree but his wife, who runs a dog rescue shelter, and their dogs were swept away, New Zealand state broadcaster TVNZ reported. The Red Cross said it was mobilising its regional network to respond to what it called the worst volcanic eruption the Pacific has experienced in decades. Katie Greenwood, the Pacific Head of Delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told Reuters up to 80,000 people could have been affected by the tsunami. Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai has erupted regularly over the past few decades but the impact of Saturday's eruption was felt as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. Two people drowned off a beach in Northern Peru due to high waves caused by the tsunami. More than a day after the eruption, countries thousands of kilometres to the west have volcanic ash clouds over them, New Zealand forecaster WeatherWatch said. Early data suggests the eruption was the biggest blast since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines 30 years ago, New Zealand-based volcanologist Shane Cronin told Radio New Zealand. "This is an eruption best witnessed from space," Cronin said.
Tsunami-hit Tonga remained largely uncontactable on Sunday with telephone and internet links severed, leaving relatives in faraway New Zealand praying for their families on the Pacific islands as casualty reports had yet to come through. An underwater volcano off Tonga erupted on Saturday, triggering warnings of 1.2-metre tsunami waves and evacuation orders on the shores of Tonga as well as several South Pacific islands, where footage on social media showed waves crashing into coastal homes. Internet and phone lines went down at about 6.40 p.m. local time on Saturday, leaving the 105,000 residents on the islands virtually uncontactable. There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga as yet although communications are limited and contact has not been established with coastal areas beyond the capital Nuku'alofa, Jacinda Ardern the Prime Minister of New Zealand told a news conference on Sunday. Tonga, an island nation with around 105,000 residents, lies 2,383 kilometres northeast of New Zealand. "Nuku'alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust but otherwise conditions are calm and stable," Ardern said. "We have not yet received news from other coastal areas," she said. Satellite images captured the volcanic eruption on Saturday as the explosion sent plumes of smoke into the air and about 12 miles above the sea level. The sky over Tonga was darkened by the ash. Concerns were growing among the Tongan community in New Zealand, desperate to make contact with their families back home. Some churches organised community prayers in Auckland and other cities. "We pray God will help our country at this sad moment. We hope everybody is safe," Maikeli Atiola, the Secretary of the Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Auckland said, Radio New Zealand reported. Ardern said the main undersea communications cable has been impacted, likely due to loss of power. Power was being restored in some areas on the islands and local mobile phones were slowly starting to work, she addedd. Official damage assessments were not yet available, she said. But Ardern said the New Zealand high commission in Nuku'alofa had said the tsunami has damaged boats, shops and other infrastructure. An Australian government spokesperson said initial assessments are still underway but Australia is ready to provide support to Tonga if requested. The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano has erupted regularly over the past few decades but Saturday's eruption was so loud that residents parts of faraway Fiji and New Zealand said they heard it. "My entire house was shaking," said Sanya Ruggiero, a Consulting Communications Advisor based in Suva, the capital of Fiji, some 750 kms from Tonga. "My doors, windows were all rattling like hell. And mine was not even as bad as others. Hundreds of people ran out of their homes," said Ruggiero, who consults for several agencies including the United Nations. Rumblings and eruptions from the volcano continued to be heard through the night, Ruggiero said. Hundreds of people were moved to evacuation centres in Suva. Fiji Airways had to cancel all its flights due to the ash clouds. "This is the worst disaster Tonga has had in living memory and the recovery from this is going to take years," Ruggiero said. Experts said the ash fallout could contaminate drinking water and cause respiratory issues. "Help will be needed to restore drinking water supplies. People of Tonga must also remain vigilant for further eruptions and especially tsunami with short notice and should avoid low lying areas," said Shane Cronin, professor at the School of Environment, University of Auckland. The eruptions triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific, with the United States urging people on its Pacific coastline to stay away from the shores and Australia's New South Wales region closing beaches. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens were advised to evacuate as waves of more than a metre hit coastal areas.
Frightened Tongans fled to higher ground yesterday after a massive volcanic eruption – heard in neighbouring countries – triggered tsunami warnings across the South Pacific. “A 1.2m tsunami wave has been observed at Nuku’alofa,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology tweeted. The latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano came just a few hours after a separate Friday tsunami warning was lifted due to the eruption. Mere Taufa said she was in her house getting ready for dinner when the volcano erupted. “It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby,” Taufa told the Stuff news website. She said water filled their home minutes later and she saw the wall of a neighbouring house collapse. “We just knew straight away it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our home. “You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground.” Tonga’s King Tupou VI was reported to have been evacuated from the Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa and taken by a police convoy to a villa well away from the coastline. The initial eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometres into the air. Residents in coastal areas were urged to head for higher ground. The eruption was so intense it was heard as “loud thunder sounds” in Fiji more than 800km away, officials in Suva said. Fijian officials warned residents to cover water collection tanks in case of acidic rain fall. Victorina Kioa of the Tonga Public Service Commission said Friday that people should “keep away from areas of warning which are low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches”. The head of Tonga Geological Services Taaniela Kula urged people to stay indoors, wear a mask if they were outside and cover rainwater reservoirs and rainwater harvesting systems. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a “tsunami advisory” for American Samoa, saying there was a threat of “sea level fluctuations and strong ocean currents that could be a hazard along beaches”. Similar warnings were issued by authorities in New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and Australia – where authorities said a swathe of coastline including Sydney could be hit by tsunami waves.
Frightened Tongans fled to higher ground Saturday after a massive volcanic eruption sent tsunami waves crashing onto the South Pacific island and triggered warnings as far as the US West Coast. Dramatic images from space showed the moment the latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai sent a mushroom of smoke and ash into the air and a shockwave across the surrounding waters. A tsunami wave measuring four feet was observed in Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa, according to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology. Local resident Mere Taufa said she was in her house getting ready for dinner when the undersea volcano erupted -- sending water surging into her home. "It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby," Taufa told the Stuff news website. She said water filled their home minutes later and she saw the wall of a neighbouring house collapse. "We just knew straight away it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our home. "You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground." Tonga's King Tupou VI was reported to have been evacuated from the Royal Palace in Nuku'alofa and taken by police convoy to a villa well away from the coastline. The volcano's eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometres into the air. Residents in coastal areas were urged to head for higher ground following the eruption -- which came just a few hours after a previous tsunami warning was lifted on the island. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano sits on an uninhabited island about 65 kilometres north of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa. Its latest eruption was so intense it was heard as "loud thunder sounds" in Fiji more than 800 kilometres away, according to officials in Suva City -- where images shared on social media showed large waves hitting the coast. Tsunami warnings were issued for American Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Chile and Australia -- where authorities said a swathe of coastline, including Sydney, could be hit by tsunami waves. People in surrounding New South Wales state were "advised to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water's edge". A tsunami warning was issued for the entire US West Coast -- from the bottom of California to the tip of Alaska's Aleutian islands -- while tsunami waves triggered "minor flooding" in Hawaii according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. "Move off the beach and out of harbors and marinas in these areas," advised the US National Weather Service, which predicted waves of up to two feet, strong rip currents and coastal flooding. Fijian officials warned residents to cover water collection tanks in case of acidic rain fall. Victorina Kioa of the Tonga Public Service Commission said Friday that people should "keep away from areas of warning which are low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches". The head of Tonga Geological Services, Taaniela Kula, urged people to stay indoors, wear a mask if they were outside and cover rainwater reservoirs and rainwater harvesting systems.
Frightened Tongans fled to higher ground Saturday after a massive volcanic eruption -- heard in neighbouring countries -- triggered tsunami warnings across the South Pacific. "A 1.2 metre tsunami wave has been observed at Nuku'alofa," Australia's Bureau of Meteorology tweeted. The latest eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano came just a few hours after a separate Friday tsunami warning was lifted due to the eruption. Mere Taufa said she was in her house getting ready for dinner when the volcano erupted. "It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves. My younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby," Taufa told the Stuff news website. She said water filled their home minutes later and she saw the wall of a neighbouring house collapse. "We just knew straight away it was a tsunami. Just water gushing into our home. "You could just hear screams everywhere, people screaming for safety, for everyone to get to higher ground." Tonga's King Tupou VI was reported to have been evacuated from the Royal Palace in Nuku'alofa and taken by a police convoy to a villa well away from the coastline. The initial eruption lasted at least eight minutes and sent plumes of gas, ash and smoke several kilometres into the air. Residents in coastal areas were urged to head for higher ground. The eruption was so intense it was heard as "loud thunder sounds" in Fiji more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) away, officials in Suva said. Fijian officials warned residents to cover water collection tanks in case of acidic rain fall. Victorina Kioa of the Tonga Public Service Commission said Friday that people should "keep away from areas of warning which are low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches". The head of Tonga Geological Services Taaniela Kula urged people to stay indoors, wear a mask if they were outside and cover rainwater reservoirs and rainwater harvesting systems. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a "tsunami advisory" for American Samoa, saying there was a threat of "sea level fluctuations and strong ocean currents that could be a hazard along beaches". Similar warnings were issued by authorities in New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and Australia -- where authorities said a swathe of coastline including Sydney could be hit by tsunami waves. People in surrounding New South Wales state were "advised to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water's edge". The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano sits on an uninhabited island about 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa.
More than 150 people have died and almost 6,000 have been arrested in Kazakhstan following violent riots in Central Asia's largest country this week, media reported Sunday citing the health ministry. The energy-rich nation of 19 million people has been rocked by a week of upheaval, with a number of foreigners detained over the unrest. At least 164 people were killed in the riots, including 103 in the largest city Almaty, which saw some of the fiercest clashes between protesters and security forces. The new figures -- which have not been independently verified -- mark a drastic increase in the death toll. Officials previously said 26 "armed criminals" had been killed and that 16 security officers had died. In total, 5,800 people have been detained for questioning, the presidency said in a statement on Sunday. The figures included "a substantial number of foreign nationals", it said without elaborating. "The situation has stabilised in all regions of the country," even if security forces were continuing "clean-up" operations, the statement added after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held a crisis meeting. Fuel price rises sparked the unrest that broke out a week ago in the country's west but quickly spread to large cities, including the economic hub Almaty, where riots erupted and police opened fire using live rounds. The interior ministry, quoted Sunday by local media, put property damage at around 175 million euros ($199 million). More than 100 businesses and banks were attacked and looted and more than 400 vehicles destroyed, the ministry reportedly said. A relative calm appeared to have returned to Almaty, with police sometimes firing shots into the air to stop people approaching the city's central square, an AFP correspondent said. Supermarkets were reopening on Sunday, media reported, amid fears of food shortages. Kazakhstan said Saturday its former security chief had been arrested for suspected treason. News of the detention of Karim Masimov, a former prime minister and longtime ally of Kazakhstan's ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, came amid speculation of a power struggle in the ex-Soviet nation. The domestic intelligence agency, the National Security Committee (KNB), announced Masimov had been detained on Thursday on suspicion of high treason. The arrest came after protests turned into widespread violence, with government buildings in Almaty stormed and set ablaze. Masimov, 56, was fired at the height of the unrest on Wednesday, when Tokayev also took over from Nazarbayev as head of the powerful security council. Nazarbayev's spokesman Aidos Ukibay on Sunday again denied rumours the ex-president had left the country and said he supported the president. Ukibay added that Nazarbayev voluntarily ceded control of the security council. In a hardline address to the nation on Friday, Tokayev said 20,000 "armed bandits" had attacked Almaty and authorised his forces to shoot to kill without warning. Much of the public anger appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power. Many protesters shouted "old man out!" in reference to Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan. Critics accuse him and his family of staying in control behind the scenes and accumulating vast wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens. The full picture of the chaos has often been unclear, with widespread disruptions to communications including days-long internet shutdowns. Flights into the country have been repeatedly cancelled and Almaty's airport will remain closed "until the situation is stabilised", authorities said Sunday. Pope Francis spoke of his "sorrow" and called for dialogue to achieve peace in his Angelus prayer on Sunday. Tokayev has thanked the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for sending troops to help deal with the unrest. The CSTO has been dispatching several thousand troops to Kazakhstan, including Russian paratroopers, who have secured strategic sites. Tokayev says the deployment will be temporary, but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Friday that Kazakhstan may have trouble getting them out. "I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave," Blinken told reporters. Tensions between Moscow and the West are at post-Cold War highs over fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, with talks between Russia and the US to take place in Geneva on Monday, after a working dinner on Sunday evening. Russia has ruled out any concessions at the talks. "We will not agree to any concession. That is completely excluded," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sunday.
Kazakhstan's president on Friday rejected calls for talks with protesters after days of unprecedented unrest, vowing to destroy "armed bandits" and authorising his forces to shoot to kill without warning. In a hardline address to the nation, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also gave "special thanks" to Russian President Vladimir Putin after a Moscow-led military alliance sent troops to Kazakhstan to help quell the violence. Security forces had blocked off strategic areas of Almaty -- the country's largest city and epicentre of the recent violence -- and were firing into the air if anyone approached, an AFP correspondent said. Elsewhere the city was like a ghost town, with banks, supermarkets and restaurants closed. The few small shops still open were fast running out of food. Late Friday, the United States authorised its non-emergency consulate personnel, and the family members of all staff, to leave the country. Tokayev, in his third televised address this week, said order had mostly been restored. "Terrorists continue to damage property... and use weapons against civilians. I have given the order to law enforcement to shoot to kill without warning," he said. He ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations as "nonsense". "We are dealing with armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign. With bandits and terrorists. So they must be destroyed. This will be done shortly." Western countries have called for restraint on all sides and respect for people's right to protest peacefully. China's President Xi Jinping however praised Tokayev for taking "strong measures". - Unclear picture - Long seen as one of the most stable of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, energy-rich Kazakhstan is facing its biggest crisis in decades. The initial cause of the protests was a spike in prices for compressed gas in the country's western energy heartland but a government move to lower the prices failed to stop demonstrations continuing. The violence erupted late Tuesday, when police fired tear gas and stun grenades at a thousands-strong protest in Almaty. The next day protesters stormed government buildings including the city administration headquarters and presidential residence, setting them ablaze, and a nationwide state of emergency was declared. The interior ministry said 26 "armed criminals" had been killed in the unrest. It said 18 security officers had been killed and more than 740 wounded, and more than 3,800 people detained. The numbers could not be independently verified and there was no official information about casualties among civilian bystanders. The full picture of the chaos has often been unclear, with widespread disruptions to communications including mobile phone signals and hours-long internet shutdowns. - Russian paratroopers land - Most flights into the country have been cancelled, and Russian news agencies quoted Almaty airport officials saying it would be closed to all but military flights until Sunday. On Wednesday Tokayev appealed for help from the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Russia's defence ministry said Friday nine planes carrying paratroopers and hardware had landed in Almaty and Russian forces had helped to secure the airport. It is not clear how many troops are being sent in the force -- which includes units from ex-Soviet states Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- but media in Moscow have said the Russian contingent is expected to number less than 5,000. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies the Russian leader and Tokayev had spoken several times in recent days to discuss "the situation in Kazakhstan and joint actions within the framework of the CSTO". - 'Democracy is not permissiveness' - Tokayev said Almaty had been under assault from "20,000 bandits" with a "clear plan of attack, coordination of actions and high combat readiness". He blamed "so-called free media" and unnamed foreign figures for instigating the violence, adding: "Democracy is not permissiveness." Tokayev has announced several moves to head off the unrest, including the resignation of the cabinet and six-month fuel price limits. The protests are the biggest threat so far to the regime established by Kazakhstan's founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down in 2019 and hand-picked Tokayev as his successor. Much of the anger appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who is 81 and had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power. Many protesters shouted "Old Man Out!" in reference to Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan. Critics have accused him and his family of staying in control behind the scenes and accumulating vast wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens. The ex-president has not made an appearance since the start of the crisis and there were unconfirmed reports of him and members of his family fleeing the country. However, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held a phone call with Nazarbayev to "discuss" events in Kazakhstan, Belarusian news agency Belta reported on Friday evening citing Lukashenko's press service.
The former head of Kazakhstan's domestic intelligence agency has been detained on suspicion of high treason, the agency said Saturday, after he was fired amid violent protests. The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement that its former chief Karim Masimov had been detained on Thursday after it launched an investigation into charges of high treason. "On January 6 of this year the National Security Committee launched a pre-trial investigation into high treason," the statement said. "On the same day, on suspicion of committing this crime, former chairman of the KNB K.K. Masimov was detained and placed in a temporary detention centre, along with others." Masimov, a close ally of Kazakhstan's founding president Nursultan Nazarbayev, was sacked from his post as head of the KNB this week after protesters in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty stormed government buildings.
About 24,000 people have been evacuated and two children killed in floods on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, officials said yesterday, with environmental campaigners blaming deforestation for worsening the disaster. Torrential rains have hammered the island for days, causing rivers to burst their banks and sending water levels surging in residential areas, the national disaster agency said. “We experience flooding at least five to eight times a year - but (this) is one of the most severe,” said Muzakkir, from Pirak Timur in hard-hit Aceh province, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. Syarifuddin, from the village of Lhok Sukon in Aceh, said the “floodwaters just kept rising -- at my house, they are up to my chest”. The province is where the evacuations and deaths have occurred, as well as some buildings been destroyed by fast-moving floodwaters and agricultural land damaged. Jambi province on Sumatra was also hard hit, with many homes flooded. Environmental NGO Walhi said the flooding was worsened by deforestation to make way for Sumatra’s expansive palm oil plantations. Trees act as natural defences against floods, slowing the rate at which water runs down hills and into rivers. Logging on higher ground was having a particularly damaging impact in Aceh, said Ahmad Shalihin from Walhi. Neighbouring Malaysia has also been hard hit by flooding since last month, and thousands more people have been forced to flee their homes in recent days amid new downpours. The number of people evacuated to government shelters stood at around 13,000 on Tuesday, with the states of Johor, Malacca and Sabah the worst affected. But the numbers have fallen considerably from a peak of around 70,000 in mid-December, when Malaysia saw its worst floods for years. About 50 people have been killed so far in the floods nationwide, according to police. Flooding and landslides are common in both Southeast Asian countries during the months-long rainy season.
Israel began Monday administering fourth Covid vaccine shots to people over 60 and health workers amid a surge driven by the Omicron variant. Health workers at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv lined up for the shot and over-60s received it at the nearby branch of Clalit, Israel's largest health fund. The shot was given to those who received their third inoculation at least four months ago. The health ministry on Sunday approved the fourth shot for the over-60s and medical staff, two days after those with weakened immunity started to take the shot, making Israel one of the first countries to do so. The health ministry on Monday reported 6,562 new Covid infections over the previous day, nearly double the daily average of last week. In an address late Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that cases could soon surge to around "50,000 cases per day". More than four million people out of Israel's population of 9.2 million have received three shots of coronavirus vaccine. A total of almost 1.4 million cases of Covid infection, including 8,244 deaths, have been officially recorded in Israel.
A major fire raging Sunday in South Africa's seat of parliament in Cape Town had not been brought under control by firefighters after more than six hours, with authorities fearing "significant" damage. Images broadcast on television showed giant flames leaping from the roof of one large building, while several others in the parliament precinct including the National Assembly were enveloped in a thick cloud of black smoke. The fire was believed to have started in one of the older buildings in the precinct, leading to a security cordon nearby the cathedral where the ashes of anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu were buried on Sunday. "The roof has caught fire and the National Assembly building is also on fire," said JP Smith, Cape Town's mayoral committee member for safety and security. No casualties had been reported and the cause of the blaze was not yet known. Smith said the "fire is not under control and cracks in the walls of the building have been reported". He added that the "fire is currently on the third floor -- initial reports indicate it started in the office space and is spreading toward the gymnasium". "The damage will be significant, especially if it's not contained soon," he warned. Emergency services feared the fire could spread swiftly through the old rooms, which are decorated with thick carpets and curtains. A team of 30 firefighters who first arrived at the scene battled the flames for several hours before being forced to retreat and call for reinforcements. Some 80 firefighters were later deployed, some using a crane to spray water on the blaze. - Second major fire in a year - The fire broke out at around 0300 GMT on Sunday. The National Assembly building, which has a red and white facade, is where South Africa's last apartheid president FW de Klerk declared the end of the brutal white minority regime in 1990. Concerned Cape Town residents quickly shared pictures of the fire on Twitter. The area around the fire in the upmarket neighbourhood was quickly cordoned off. The cordon stretched to a square where flowers were still displayed in front the nearby St. George's Cathedral, where Tutu's funeral took place on Saturday. After a simple, no-frills mass, with a cheap coffin -- according to the famously modest Tutu's instructions -- his ashes were interred in the cathedral on Sunday. Cape Town is home to South Africa's seat of parliament, including the National Assembly and upper House National Council of Provinces, while the government is based in Pretoria. The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town consist of three sections, including the original and oldest building that was completed in 1884. The newer additions -- constructed in the 1920s and 1980s -- house the National Assembly. Cape Town suffered a previous fire in April, when a blaze on the famed Table Mountain which overlooks the city spread, ravaging part of The University of Cape Town's library holding a unique collection of African archives.
Five people were killed and 21 were injured in a bus accident south of Moscow in the early hours of Sunday, Russian authorities said. Russia's Federal Road Traffic Inspection agency said the accident took place at around 5:45 am local time (0245 GMT) in the Ryazan region. "As a result of the accident five people died. 21 were injured," the agency said on Telegram, adding that two of the injured were under-age. It said the injuries were of "various severity." The agency said the bus could have hit a pillar by a railroad bridge. The accident took place on a highway near the village of Voslebovo around 270 kilometres (170 miles) south of Moscow, the agency said. There was a total of 49 passengers onboard, according to authorities. Police said it had opened a criminal case on violations of traffic rules.
* Anti-apartheid hero won Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 * Lauded by both Black and white South Africans * 'A giant among us, morally and spiritually' * Cathedral illuminated in purple, colour of Tutu's robes (Updates with Ramaphosa quotes, detail) President Cyril Ramaphosa lauded the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu as "our moral compass and national conscience" as South Africa bade farewell at a state funeral on Saturday to a hero of the struggle against apartheid. "Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world," Ramaphosa said, delivering the main eulogy at the service in St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, where for years Tutu preached against racial injustice. The president then handed over the national flag to Tutu's widow, Nomalizo Leah, known as "Mama Leah". Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to white minority rule, died last Sunday aged 90. His widow sat in a wheelchair in the front row of the congregation, draped in a purple scarf, the colour of her husband's clerical robes. Ramaphosa wore a matching necktie. Cape Town, the city where Tutu lived for most of his later life, was unseasonably rainy early on Saturday as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the man fondly known as "The Arch". The sun shone brightly after the requiem Mass as six white-robed clergy acting as pall bearers wheeled the coffin out of the cathedral to a hearse. Tutu's body will be cremated and then his ashes interred behind the cathedral's pulpit in a private ceremony. "Small in physical stature, he was a giant among us morally and spiritually," said retired Bishop Michael Nuttall, who served as Tutu's deputy for many years. Life-size posters of Tutu, with his hands clasped, were placed outside the cathedral, where the number of congregants was restricted in line with COVID-19 measures. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who leads the global Anglican Communion, said in a recorded message: "People have said 'when we were in the dark, he brought light' and that... has lit up countries globally that are struggling with fear, conflicts, persecution, oppression." Tutu's family members were visibly emotional. His daughter, Reverend Nontombi Naomi Tutu, thanked well-wishers for their support as the Mass began, her voice briefly quivering with emotion. 'RAINBOW NATION' Widely revered across South Africa's racial and cultural divides for his moral integrity, Tutu never stopped fighting for his vision of a "Rainbow Nation" in which all races in post-apartheid South Africa could live in harmony. Hundreds of well-wishers queued on Thursday and Friday to pay their last respects as his body lay in state at the cathedral. As Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu turned St George's into what is known as a "People's Cathedral" a refuge for anti-apartheid activists during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s when security forces brutally repressed the mass democratic movement. A small crowd of around 100 people followed the funeral proceedings on a big screen at the Grand Parade, opposite City Hall where Tutu joined Nelson Mandela when he gave his first speech after being freed from prison. "We have come to give our last respects to our father Tutu. We love our father, who taught us about love, unity and respect for one another,” said Mama Phila, a 54-year-old Rastafarian draped in the green, red and yellow colours of her faith. Mandela, who became the country's first post-apartheid president and who died in December 2013, once said of his friend: "Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be the voice of the voiceless."
Hong Kong’s health officials said yesterday the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way past some of the world’s toughest Covid-19 restrictions, with the city reporting its first cases outside its strict quarantine system. The findings raise risks that the global financial hub might keep its borders shut well into 2022. It has largely isolated itself from the world hoping in turn to open the border with mainland China for a limited number of business travellers. Hong Kong’s last Covid-19 case tracked outside its quarantine facilities and hotels was discovered in October. Previous infections with the Omicron variant were discovered during quarantines of people returning to Hong Kong. Health Secretary Sophia Chan told reporters one of four air crew members who tested positive after their return to Hong Kong had breached home quarantine rules by going to a restaurant, where he passed the virus to his father and a client sitting at another table. “Omicron is raging around the world ... and it has now found its way into the community,” Chan said. She added that China border reopening preparations continued, but “the priority was handling the pandemic.” Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan told reporters a different airline worker, who tested positive but was previously thought to have stayed at home, had visited a bar in a crowded nightlife district shortly after their latest flight back. Chan said Chief Executive Carrie Lam met with Cathay Pacific Airways officials earlier yesterday to express her dissatisfaction with the breaching of the rules. Cathay said in a statement five of its aircrew had tested positive in recent days and its “investigation into the cases has indicated a serious breach of protocols by some of those individuals,” adding it will initiate disciplinary procedures. “The actions of these individuals are extremely disappointing, as they undermine the otherwise exemplary dedication and compliance shown by our over 10,000 aircrew,” said Andy Wong, general manager of Corporate Affairs. The government this week tightened quarantine rules for air crew, who had been allowed to quarantine at home, unlike most people returning to the city who have to quarantine in hotels for up to 21 days at their own cost. Pilots had expressed worries about their mental health amid prolonged periods of isolation even before the tightening.Cathay said on Thursday the latest tightening had forced it to cancel a significant number of passenger and cargo flights to and from Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been coronavirus-free for extended periods since the pandemic began. But less than 70% of its eligible population, far lower than in other developed cities, have taken two shots of either China’s Sinovac or Germany’s BioNTech vaccines. Only about 5% of people have received a third booster shot. Even three doses of Sinovac’s vaccine do not produce adequate levels of antibodies to fight the Omicron variant, researchers from Hong Kong found.
The new United Nations special envoy to Myanmar yesterday said she was “deeply concerned” by escalating violence in the country and called for a new year ceasefire between the military and its opponents. Nationwide protests against the February coup have been met with a bloody crackdown, with more than 1,300 people killed and over 11,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis led by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have made little headway so far, with the generals refusing to engage with opponents. Special envoy Noeleen Heyzer “is deeply concerned by the continued escalation of violence in Kayin State and other parts of Myanmar”, she said in her first statement since taking on the role. She also called for “all parties to...allow humanitarian assistance to be provided to those in need, including those forced to flee the violence”, and for all sides to come to a new year ceasefire. On Sunday, a UN official said he was “horrified” by credible reports that at least 35 civilians were killed and their bodies burned in an attack on Christmas Eve in eastern Myanmar, and demanded the government launch an investigation. Two workers for non-profit group Save the Children remain missing — their vehicle was among several that were attacked and burned in the incident in Kayah state. “The military reportedly forced people from their cars, arrested some, killed others and burned their bodies,” it said in a statement. The charity said yesterday it was still investigating the incident. There have also been fresh clashes in recent days between ethnic rebels and the military in Kayin state — also known as Karen state — sending thousands fleeing into neighbouring Thailand. A junta spokesman said last week that the military had carried out air strikes against Karen National Union fighters and members of local “People’s Defence Force” groups that have sprung up to fight back against the putsch. Singaporean sociologist Heyzer was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in October, replacing Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener. Schraner Burgener had called for the UN to take “very strong measures” against the military to bring the country back to democracy and had been the target of regular broadsides in Myanmar’s state-backed media. Since the coup, the Swiss diplomat had been blocked by the generals from visiting the country, where she had hoped to meet with former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Last week, state media reported the junta had closed her office in the country “since the activities of Christine Schraner Burgener have concluded”. The junta said it had no comment yet in response to questions on whether it would allow Heyzer to open an office, or whether it would let her visit. Meanwhile, a Myanmar junta court yesterday again postponed giving its verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial for illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, a source with knowledge of the case said. The Nobel laureate has been detained since the generals staged a coup against her government on February 1. Suu Kyi, 76, was due to hear the verdict on charges she illegally imported and possessed walkie-talkies - the latest in a catalogue of judgements in a junta court that could see her jailed for the rest of her life. But the judge adjourned the verdict until January 10, a source with knowledge of the case said, without giving details. Earlier this month, Suu Kyi was jailed for four years for incitement against the military and breaching Covid restrictions, in a ruling that was widely condemned by the international community. Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing later commuted the term to two years and said she would serve her sentence under house arrest in the capital Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi had faced three years in prison if found guilty on the walkie-talkie charges, which stem from the early hours of the coup when soldiers and police raided her house and allegedly found her in possession of the contraband equipment. Suu Kyi is also charged with multiple counts of corruption - each of which is punishable by 15 years in jail - and violating the official secrets act. Journalists have been barred from attending the special court hearings in Naypyidaw and her lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media
Russian energy giant Gazprom has rejected accusations that Moscow is limiting gas deliveries to Europe and denounced Germany's resale of gas to Poland amid soaring prices. Poland this week accused Moscow of having stopped its deliveries via the Yamal-Europe pipeline that sends Russian gas to Western Europe, accusing Gazprom of "manipulation". The pipeline was operating in reverse mode this week, sending gas from Germany to Poland, public data showed, as European gas prices ticked up. President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied that the flow direction was a political move and said that Poland had "sidelined" Russia in managing the pipeline. "All accusations against Russia and Gazprom that we are not supplying enough gas to the European market are absolutely groundless and unacceptable and untrue," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said late Saturday, calling the accusations "lies". He said some buyers of Russian gas, in particular Germany and France, have not made additional orders, and slammed the reverse flow of gas that came as "winter is just beginning" as "not the most rational decision." "I don't even want to talk about the price of such reverse supplies. These prices are significantly higher than the prices for contract volumes set by Gazprom, he said in an interview on state television. "All problems in Western Europe have been created by themselves and there is no need to blame Gazprom for this. It is better to look in the mirror." Western countries have for weeks accused Russia of limiting gas deliveries to put pressure on Europe amid tensions over the Ukraine conflict and to push through the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline set to ship Russian gas to Germany. Germany's energy ministry, for its part, on Sunday poured cold water on accusations of Russia withholding deliveries. "Long-term supply contracts, including the Russian ones, are being adhered to and the long-term quantities of gas are arriving in Germany," the ministry told AFP.
A Madagascan minister was one of two survivors to have swum some 12 hours to shore Tuesday after their helicopter crashed off the island's northeastern coast, authorities said. A search was still ongoing for two other passengers after the crash Monday, whose cause was not immediately clear, police and port authorities said. Serge Gelle, the country's secretary of state for police, and a fellow policeman reached land in the seaside town of Mahambo separately on Tuesday morning, apparently after ejecting themselves from the aircraft, port authority chief Jean-Edmond Randrianantenaina said. In a video shared on social media, 57-year-old Gelle appears lying exhausted on a deck chair, still in his camouflage uniform. "My time to die hasn't come yet," says the general, adding he is cold but not injured. The helicopter was flying him and the others to inspect the site of a shipwreck off the northeastern coast on Monday morning. At least 39 people died in that disaster, police chief Zafisambatra Ravoavy said Tuesday, in an increase from a previous toll after rescue workers retrieved 18 more bodies. Ravoavy earlier told AFP that Gelle had used one of the helicopter's seats as a flotation device. "He has always had great stamina in sport, and he's kept up this rhythm as minister, just like a thirty-year-old," he said. "He has nerves of steel." Gella became minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle in August after serving in the police for three decades.