Four die in UK chemical tank blast: Police

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Emergency responders are seen on the scene of a blast in a warehouse in Avonmouth near Bristol, Britain December 3, 2020 in this picture obtained from social media. (@jawadburhan98 via Reuters)
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A damaged tank is seen at the scene of a blast in a warehouse in Avonmouth near Bristol, Britain December 3, 2020 in this picture obtained from social media. (@jawadburhan98 via Reuters)
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Updated 03 December 2020

Four die in UK chemical tank blast: Police

  • Avon and Somerset Police Chief Inspector said the incident was not terror-related
  • The explosion at the plant operated by Wessex Water occurred in a silo that holds treated bio-solids before they are recycled as organic soil conditioners

LONDON: Four people died on Thursday when a chemical tank exploded at a waste water treatment plant in western England, police said.
"We can confirm there have been four fatalities," Avon and Somerset Police Chief Inspector Mark Runacres said after the explosion at the plant at Avonmouth, near Bristol.
A fifth person was injured but their injuries were not said to be life-threatening, he added.
Police said they would not be speculating on the cause of the explosion but added it was not being treated as terror related.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was "deeply saddened to learn that four people have lost their lives".
"Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Thank you to the emergency services who attended the scene," he added.
The explosion at the plant operated by Wessex Water occurred in a silo that holds treated bio-solids before they are recycled as organic soil conditioners, added Runacres.
Witness Jawad Burhan said there was a "helicopter looking for missing people" and police closed a nearby road leading up to the plant.
"I heard the sound, I'm working beside the building in another warehouse. After 10 minutes I saw the helicopter coming and the police," he said.
Another witness, Kieran Jenkins, told the BBC he was in a nearby warehouse when the explosion occurred, saying it was "shaking and we literally stood there in shock.
"Next thing you know we looked out of the windows and all we could see was people running.
"We don't know what happened. It was a bit of a shock really. I heard a bang... we didn't know what was going on."
An investigation has been launched into the blast with the Health and Safety Executive.


UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed

Updated 06 March 2021

UN envoy calls for action against Myanmar junta over bloodshed

  • Myanmar has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1
  • More than 50 protesters have been killed, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener tells UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations special envoy on Myanmar called on the UN Security Council to take action against the ruling junta after the killings of protesters who have continued to defy security forces at demonstrations against last month’s coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with daily protests and strikes that have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More than 50 protesters have been killed according to the United Nations — at least 38 on Wednesday alone. Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election, which her party won in landslide, but which the army rejected.
“How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?” Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told a closed meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council on Friday, according to a copy of her remarks seen by Reuters.
“It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.”
A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.
The army says it has been restrained in stopping the protests, but has said it will not allow them to threaten stability.
On Saturday, in the southern town of Dawei, protesters chanted “Democracy is our cause” and “The revolution must prevail.” Protesters were also gathering in the biggest city, Yangon.
People have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands at times, vowing to continue action in a country that spent nearly half a century under military rule until democratic reforms in 2011 that were cut short by the coup.
“Political hope has begun to shine. We can’t lose the momentum of the revolution,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. “Those who dare to fight will have victory. We deserve victory.”
At least one man was killed by security forces in protests on Friday. An official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and his teenage nephew were also stabbed to death by military supporters, local media reported.

Outrage
The killing of protesters has drawn international outrage.
“Use of violence against the people of Myanmar must stop now,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a tweet, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and for the restoration of democracy.
The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, has called for a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions.
But in an effort to preserve council unity on Myanmar, diplomats said sanctions were unlikely to be considered anytime soon as such measures would probably be opposed by China and Russia, which have veto powers.
“All parties should exercise utmost calm and restraint,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said, according to remarks released after the UN meeting. “We don’t want to see instability, even chaos in Myanmar.”
The army took power over allegations of fraud in last year’s election which had been dismissed by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date.
That plan is rejected by protesters and by a group representing lawmakers elected at the last election that has begun to issue statements in the name of a rival civilian administration.
On Friday, it listed four demands — the end of the junta, the release of the detainees, democracy and the abolition of the 2008 constitution which left significant political representation and control in the hands of the military.
Instead, it said Myanmar should have a federal constitution — an appeal to the ethnic groups in the country’s borderlands which have chafed under domination of the Bamar majority both under the military and Suu Kyi’s party.
On Friday, thousands of people rallied in the southeastern Karen state, accompanied by fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the ethnic armed groups engaged in long-running wars.
During the rally — the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.


American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

Updated 06 March 2021

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

  • The 737 MAX was Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until it was grounded over a faulty flight handling system

NEW YORK: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet flying to Newark, New Jersey from Miami landed safely on Friday after pilots shut down an engine during the flight, the US air safety regulator said.
The MAX returned to skies in the United States late last year after it was grounded worldwide in March 2019 following two deadly crashes.
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said “pilots reported shutting down an engine in flight” but the plane was able to taxi to its gate on its own power, and the agency will investigate the incident.
American Airlines confirmed to AFP that the issue was related to an engine oil pressure issue and not the faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which was implicated in the crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
“All customers deplaned normally, with no reported injuries to passengers or crew,” American Airlines said.
The 737 MAX was a big hit with airlines, becoming Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until its grounding, which forced the manufacturer to revamp MCAS and implement new pilot training protocols.
The grounding plunged the American aviation giant into crisis, which was exacerbated by the global downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and airlines canceled hundreds of orders for the plane.


Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Updated 06 March 2021

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

  • Joe Biden's overall bill is aimed at battling the killer pandemic
  • It also aims to nurse the staggered economy back to health
WASHINGTON: Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal late Friday over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a nine-hour logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.
The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
The Senate next faced votes on a pile of amendments that were likely to last overnight, mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes.
More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments.
The day’s lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.
Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in a 50-50 Senate that leaves his party without a vote to spare. With Democrats also clinging to a mere 10-vote House edge, the party needs his vote but can’t tilt too far center without losing progressive support.
Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs.
Biden noted Friday’s jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That’s still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.”
The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them.
“You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.
But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.
The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
As the day began, Democrats asserted they’d reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October.
That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.
But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and by 9 p.m. had not been formally gaveled to a close, as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations.
Republicans say the overall relief bill is a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing.
“Our country is already set for a roaring recovery,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in part citing an unexpectedly strong report on job creation. “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.”
Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
Friday’s gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn’t the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states.
In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals.

Man found Tiger Woods unconscious after SUV crash, says affidavit

Updated 06 March 2021

Man found Tiger Woods unconscious after SUV crash, says affidavit

  • An investigator has said Woods appeared to be in shock but was conscious and able to answer basic questions
  • It was the 10th surgery of his career and came two months after a fifth back surgery

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, California: Tiger Woods was unconscious in a mangled SUV after he crashed the vehicle in Southern California last week, according to a court document that also revealed a nearby resident and not a sheriff’s deputy was first on the scene.
The witness, who lives near the accident scene in Rolling Hills Estates just outside Los Angeles, heard the crash and walked to the SUV, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Johann Schloegl wrote in the affidavit. The man told deputies that Woods had lost consciousness and did not respond to his questions.
The first deputy, Carlos Gonzalez, arrived minutes later the morning of Feb. 23 and has said Woods appeared to be in shock but was conscious and able to answer basic questions. Woods suffered severe injuries to his right leg and cuts to his face.
Woods told deputies — both at the wreckage and later at the hospital — that he did not know how the crash occurred and didn’t remember driving, according to the affidavit.
The document was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court as part of a statement of probable cause requesting that a search warrant be approved for the 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV’s data recorder, known as a black box. Schloegl requested data from Feb. 22 and Feb. 23.
“I believe the data will explain how/why the collision occurred,” Schloegl wrote.
Schloegl previously told USA Today that he did not seek a search warrant for Woods’ blood samples, which could be screened for drugs and alcohol. In 2017, Woods checked himself into a clinic for help dealing with prescription drug medication after a DUI charge in his home state of Florida.
A judge approved the search warrant for the data recorder. Sheriff’s representatives have declined to say what they have found on it.
“LASD is not releasing any further information at this time,” department spokesman Deputy Shawn Du Busky said in a statement Friday. “The traffic collision investigation is ongoing and traffic investigators continue to work to determine the cause of the collision.”
Deputies did not consult with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office regarding any search warrants in the Woods investigation, according to DA spokesman Greg Risling.
Experts say police can ask prosecutors if there is enough probable cause to seek a warrant, noting that it would be typical to do so in motor vehicle cases when there aren’t immediate signs of impairment but a detective believes there is reason to obtain a blood sample.
Rising declined further comment when asked whether LA prosecutors generally weigh in on such cases.
Woods is from the Los Angeles area and was back home to host his PGA tournament, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, which ended two days before the crash.
He was driving an SUV loaned to him by the tournament when he struck a raised median around 7 a.m., crossed through two oncoming lanes and uprooted a tree. The crash occurred on a downhill stretch that police said is known for wrecks.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said Woods was driving alone in good weather, there was no evidence of impairment, and the crash was “purely an accident.” However, depending on what is found on the data recorder, Woods could face a misdemeanor driving charge or a traffic citation.
Dr. Andre Campbell, a trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, said it’s not unusual for patients in major vehicle crashes to lose consciousness or experience memory lapses.
“A lot of times people will tell you, ‘I don’t remember what happened,’ ” he said, adding the memory loss may never return.
“This is a credit to modern engineering, really, that he’s alive,” said Campbell, who is not involved in Woods’ treatment and spoke generally about trauma patients.
The crash injured Woods’ right leg, requiring a lengthy surgery to stabilize shattered tibia and fibula bones. A combination of screws and pins were used for injuries in the ankle and foot.
It was the 10th surgery of his career and came two months after a fifth back surgery. Through it all, Woods has never gone an entire year without playing, dating back to his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old in high school.


US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say

Updated 06 March 2021

US detained nearly 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February, sources say

  • The figure represent an increase over a figure of 78,000 in January
  • Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration

WASHINGTON: US border agents detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since a major border surge in mid-2019.
The figures, which have not been previously reported, show the scope of a growing migrant influx at the southwest border as US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, seeks to roll back some of the restrictive policies of former President Donald Trump, a Republican. February was Biden’s first full month in office.
Last month’s total would represent the highest tally for the month of February since 2006. The sources who provided the figures to Reuters spoke on the condition of anonymity.
An increasing number of children arriving at the border without a parent or legal guardian has forced US officials in recent weeks to scramble for housing options and take steps to speed up their release to sponsors in the United States.
The nearly 100,000 migrants detained at the border in February represent an increase over a figure of 78,000 in January. February’s total appears to be the highest monthly number since June 2019 during a large border surge that Trump cited as justification for a broad immigration crackdown.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said official statistics for last month likely will be released next week.
US Border Patrol agents caught more than 4,500 migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in a single day on Wednesday, according to government figures shared with Reuters, a sign that illegal entries could continue to rise in March.
Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, saying the shift will lead to more illegal immigration.
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Biden on Friday that requested a meeting to discuss the issue, saying he had “great concern” with the administration’s approach to border.
“We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border,” McCarthy wrote in the letter.
The recidivism rate among migrants attempting to cross the border illegally increased over the past year under a Trump-era policy known as Title 42. That policy, issued on public health grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowed US authorities to rapidly expel migrants caught crossing. In some cases, migrants attempt to cross the border again.
Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the policy in February.