US digs out from monster storm as death toll passes 50

National Grid workers respond to a downed utility pole in Buffalo, New York, on December 27, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 28 December 2022
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US digs out from monster storm as death toll passes 50

BUFFALO, USA: The monster storm that killed dozens in the United States over the Christmas weekend continued to inflict misery on New York state and air travelers nationwide Tuesday, as stories emerged of families trapped for days during the “blizzard of the century.”
The number of deaths attributed to the winter storm rose to more than 50 after officials confirmed three more fatalities in western New York’s Erie County, the epicenter of the crisis.
The police department “expects that number to rise,” tweeted Byron Brown, mayor of the lakeside county’s biggest city Buffalo — which has been paralyzed for five days by chest-deep snow banks and power outages.
Kathy Hochul, New York state’s governor and a Buffalo native, described the storm aftermath as resembling “a war zone.”
“Certainly it is the blizzard of the century,” Hochul told reporters Monday.
As temperatures plummeted, commuters and some residents fleeing their freezing homes became trapped on highways, unable to be rescued.
The problem was compounded when some areas were rendered inaccessible to ambulances for dozens of hours and snowplows were unable to perform their job due to the ferocity of the storm — necessitating rescuers being rescued in certain cases.
The family of one 22-year-old Buffalo resident, Anndel Taylor, said she died in her car after getting stuck on her way home from work.
A video sent by Taylor and posted by her sister shows her vehicle covered up to its windows in snow.
Emergency responders, who themselves became stuck attempting to rescue her, found her dead 18 hours later, possibly due to carbon monoxide poisoning, her family in North Carolina told local TV station WSOC-TV.
One father described being trapped in his vehicle on the streets of Buffalo with his four young children for 11 hours before being rescued, according to The New York Times.
Zila Santiago, 30, said he kept his engine running to provide some warmth and fed his children some juice found in his trunk.
They were finally rescued at dawn by a passing snowplow.
In a city well-accustomed to snowstorms, some residents were blaming a travel ban they said was enacted too late on Friday morning as contributing to the mayhem.
Buffalo resident Mark Eguliar remained at his workplace, where he was stuck for more than 40 hours.
“Too many people were driving, too many people were not listening to the ban, so the cars were blocking all the roads, making it a lot harder to get home,” he said.
The perfect storm of fierce snow squalls, howling wind and sub-zero temperatures forced the cancelation of thousands of flights in recent days, including around 5,900 on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to tracking site FlightAware.com.
Most of the cancelations on Tuesday and Wednesday were at Southwest Airlines, which pulled more than 60 percent of its flights due to cascading logistics issues, earning it a rebuke from the US government.
The Department of Transportation tweeted that it was “concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancelations” and would examine if the company was “complying with its customer service plan,” while the US Senate committee overseeing aviation said it would look into causes that “go beyond weather.”
In a video statement on Tuesday, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said he was “truly sorry” for the disruptions and that a “massive effort to stabilize the airline” was under way.
He also noted that he had spoken with transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg about the issues, and pledged to “double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what’s happening right now.”
US President Joe Biden on Monday approved an emergency declaration for New York state, freeing up funds to help it recover from the disaster.
Buffalo’s international airport remains closed until Wednesday morning and a driving ban remained in effect for the city.
“You can absolutely go out and walk to check on neighbors, go to open stores, etc. But do not drive,” tweeted the county executive, Mark Poloncarz.
Longtime Buffalo resident Bill Sherlock told AFP that his home had received about four feet of snow, but that he was lucky to have had functioning electricity and food.
Those less fortunate “probably had the worst Christmas of their lives,” said the 38-year-old attorney — mindful that some homes in his neighborhood have had no power since Friday.
Sherlock said he may wait another day before leaving home for the first time in nearly a week: “We’re not going anywhere unless we have to.”
Mayor Brown told CNN that multiple looting incidents were reported in the city over Christmas weekend and eight arrests had been made.
The National Weather Service forecast a respite of warmer temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) by the weekend, although officials warned that melting snow could result in minor flooding.
The extreme weather over the weekend sent temperatures to below freezing in all mainland US states, including in Texas along the Mexico border where some arriving migrants have struggled to find shelter.
At one point on Saturday, nearly 1.7 million customers were without electricity in the biting cold, according to tracker PowerOutage.us.
Road ice and whiteout conditions also led to the temporary closure of some of the nation’s busiest transport routes, including part of the cross-country Interstate 70 highway.


9 killed in Russian aerial attacks on Ukraine ahead of G7 summit aimed at slowing Moscow’s offensive

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9 killed in Russian aerial attacks on Ukraine ahead of G7 summit aimed at slowing Moscow’s offensive

Zelensky said the strike has again proven that “Ukraine, together with its partners, must strengthen its air defenses”
“Modern air defense systems are capable of providing maximum protection of people, our cities, and our positions“

KYIV: Russian forces launched new deadly attacks on Ukraine, killing at least nine people on Wednesday, a day before the leaders of countries that are some of Ukraine’s biggest backers were to discuss how to slow Moscow’s offensive.
Ukrainian authorities said that along with the nine killed, 29 others, including five children, were wounded when Russian missiles hit an apartment block in Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown.
Zelensky said the strike has again proven that “Ukraine, together with its partners, must strengthen its air defenses” — something that he has repeatedly appealed for with Ukraine’s Western partners. The United States has agreed to send another Patriot missile system, two US officials said late Tuesday.
“Modern air defense systems are capable of providing maximum protection of people, our cities, and our positions,” Zelensky said. “And we need as many of them as possible.”
Earlier Wednesday, Ukraine’s air force said it shot down more than two dozen air targets, including cruise missiles, a Kinzhal ballistic missile and Shahed drones. Several people were wounded, authorities said.
Kyiv’s outgunned and outnumbered forces are battling to hold back the bigger Russian army, which is trying to exploit Ukrainian vulnerabilities. Ukraine has been short of troops, ammunition and air defenses in recent months as the Kremlin’s forces try to cripple the national power supply and punch through the front line in eastern parts of the country.
Ukraine will need to weather the Russian onslaught through the summer, military analysts say, and in the meantime train more soldiers, build fortifications and hope that the provision of Western military aid picks up speed so that in 2025 Kyiv may be able to mount its own offensive.
Several diplomatic events over the next few days are aimed at how to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion or how to bring about an end to the war.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden and the other Group of Seven leaders will gather in Italy for their annual summit to discuss ways to help Ukraine, including how to divert more frozen Russian assets to Kyiv’s defense.
Separately, the Biden administration on Wednesday said it had broadened sanctions against Russia by targeting companies that help Moscow’s war effort and raising the stakes for foreign financial institutions that work with sanctioned Russian entities.
The more than 300 new sanctions are largely aimed at deterring individuals and companies in countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Türkiye from helping Moscow circumvent Western blocks on obtaining key technology. They also threaten foreign financial institutions with sanctions if they do business with almost any sanctioned Russian entity, underscoring the US view that the Kremlin has pivoted the Russian economy on to a war footing.
Biden and Zelensky will also sign a bilateral security agreement between the US and Ukraine on Thursday, when they meet on the G7 summit’s sidelines, the White House said.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the agreement would not commit US troops directly to Ukraine’s defense, but that it would demonstrate the US supports the people of Ukraine and serve as a “bridge” to when Ukraine is invited to join the NATO alliance — a long-term priority of Zelensky’s that alliance members have said will first require an end to the war.
While the G7 meets in Italy, defense chiefs from the US, Europe and other nations will meet Thursday in Brussels for their monthly meeting on Ukraine’s security needs. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host the event.
And this weekend, representatives of nearly 90 countries and organizations, half from Europe, are expected to attend a summit in Switzerland aimed at charting a path to peace between Russia and Ukraine, though Russia won’t be attending.
Both sides in Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II have been reaching out to friendly nations to help keep their armed forces supplied. The war has cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides, including more than 11,000 Ukrainian civilians, according to the United Nations.
While Ukraine has looked to Western countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to nations such as Iran and North Korea for help. Unconfirmed reports suggested Putin may soon make a third visit to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Moscow showed no signs of relenting in the war. The Kremlin said Wednesday that Putin met with Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, the chief of the military’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and the commanders of Russia’s five military districts.
A readout of the Tuesday night meeting said the officials presented Putin with “plans to continue the hostilities.”
Fighting along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line has in recent months focused on the partly occupied Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are trying to reach the key hilltop city of Chasiv Yar and other strategic hubs.
Last month, Russian forces also launched an offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, which borders Russia. Putin said he wanted to establish a buffer zone there to prevent Ukrainian cross-border attacks. The offensive drew some Ukrainian fighters away from Donetsk.
However, Russia’s gains have been incremental and costly.
In the Kharkiv region, Russian units have become bogged down in Vovchansk, Ukraine Commander in Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said Wednesday on the Telegram messaging app.

Migrants dying in unprecedented numbers on Canary Islands route, NGO says

Updated 12 June 2024
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Migrants dying in unprecedented numbers on Canary Islands route, NGO says

  • Nearly 5,000 migrants have died at sea in first five months of 2024 trying to reach Spanish Canary Islands
  • Victims came from 17 different countries, mostly from African mainland but also Comoros Islands as well as Pakistan

ARGUINEGUIN, Spain: An unprecedented nearly 5,000 migrants have died at sea in the first five months of 2024 trying to reach the Spanish Canary Islands, according to a report released by migration rights group Walking Borders on Wednesday.

Between Jan. 1 and May 31, 4,808 people died on the Atlantic voyage to the Canaries after departing from Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia, making it the deadliest route between Africa and Spain, with 95 percent of migrant deaths, according to the group.

Arrivals to the archipelago in that period soared five times to over 16,500 from a year ago, Interior Ministry data showed.

The Mediterranean route was the second deadliest, with 175 deaths on the crossing from Algeria to Spain’s southeastern shores. Another 71 people died on the Strait of Gibraltar and Alboran Sea that separate Spain from Morocco, bringing the total of victims on routes to Spain to 5,054 — an average of 33 per day.

“We cannot normalize these figures. We must demand that the various countries put the protocols of duty of care at sea and the defense of the right to life above migration control measures,” said the NGO’s coordinator, Helena Maleno.

The victims came from 17 different countries, mostly from the African mainland but also the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, as well as Pakistan. They included 154 women and 50 children, the report said.

The head of the Red Cross in the Canary Islands, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Verona, said the Atlantic route was the most dangerous as the ocean’s rough weather conditions could easily cause the precarious vessels used by most migrants to capsize.

Migration expert and journalist Txema Santana said there were the political and economic ingredients of a “perfect storm” in West Africa that would likely see more mass arrivals to the Canaries in the upcoming summer and autumn seasons.

Last year, a record 39,910 migrants reached the Canary Islands and over 6,000 people died while attempting the perilous crossing. Rights groups expect that figure to be surpassed this year.


French President Macron urges moderate politicians to regroup to defeat the far right in elections

Updated 12 June 2024
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French President Macron urges moderate politicians to regroup to defeat the far right in elections

  • His move triggered an early legislative election that will take place in two rounds on June 30 and July 7
  • Macron said he decided on the risky move because he could not ignore the new political reality after his pro-European party was handed a chastening defeat

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday urged moderate politicians from the left and the right to regroup to defeat the far right in the upcoming national legislative elections he had called for after his party’s crushing defeat in the European parliamentary vote.
A somber-looking Macron addressed French voters for the first time since his stunning decision on Sunday to dissolve the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.
His move triggered an early legislative election that will take place in two rounds on June 30 and July 7, three weeks after the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen triumphed at the vote for the European Union Parliament.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Macron said he decided on the risky move because he could not ignore the new political reality after his pro-European party was handed a chastening defeat and garnered less than half the support of the National Rally with its star leader, Jordan Bardella.
Unlike in his recent national addresses in which Macron focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine and ways Europe should forge a common defense policy, independent of the United States, and shore up trade protections against China, the French president stuck to his country’s internal issues favored by the surging right, including curbing immigration, fighting crime and Islamic separatism in France.
Macron, who has three years left of his second presidential term, hopes voters will band together to contain the far right in national elections in a way they didn’t in European ones. He called on “men and women of goodwill who were able to say ‘no’ to extremes on the left and the right to join together to be able to build a joint project” for the country.
“Things are simple today: we have unnatural alliances at both extremes, who quite agree on nothing except the jobs to be shared, and who will not be able to implement any program,” Macron said during a press conference in Paris.
While he seemed to project the kind of enthusiasm that helped bring him to the presidency in 2017, analysts say French voters are more pessimistic about their future, and see Macron as increasingly out of touch with real life and pocketbook problems.
Macron acknowledged some faults committed by his pro-business centrist party while harshly criticizing parties on the right for teaming up with Le Pen’s National Rally, which has a history of racism and xenophobia. He scathingly called an alliance formed by parties on the left as “unusual and incoherent” after they included the hard-left France Unbowed of Jean-Luc Mélenchon who, Macon said “justified anti-Semitic policies” in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.
“We’re not perfect, we haven’t done everything right, but we have results... and above all, we know how to act,” Macron said of his Renaissance party, adding that the “far right (is) the main danger” in the upcoming election.
“The question is who will govern the country tomorrow?” he asked. “The far right and a few associates, or the democratic, progressive bloc? That’s the fundamental question.”
The decision to send to the polls voters who just expressed their discontent with Macron’s politics was a risky move that could result in the French far-right leading a government for the first time since World War II.
Potential alliances and France’s two-round voting system in national elections make the outcome of the vote highly uncertain. Macron was adamant in his faith in the French voters’ intent to refuse to choose the extremes of both sides of the political spectrum. He assured that he was not falling into defeatism and said he would serve out his second presidential term regardless of the outcome of the legislative vote.
“I think the French are intelligent, they see what’s being done, what’s coherent and what’s not, and they know what to do,” Macron said. He added: “I don’t believe at all that the worst can happen. You see, I’m an indefatigable optimist.”
He rebuffed accusations that his move to call snap elections would help the far-right take power in France.
“It’s about allowing political forces chosen by the French to be able to govern,” he said, He added that it’s “awkward to think it has to be the extreme right or political extremes. Or maybe you’ve got the spirit of defeat spread everywhere.”
“If that’s what people are afraid of, it’s time now to take action,” he said.
Opposition parties on the left and right have been scrambling to form alliances and field candidates in the early legislative balloting.
While sharp differences between parties remain on either side of the political spectrum, prominent figures calling for a united front appear to have one thing in common: They don’t want to cooperate with Macron.
Despite their divisions, left-wing parties agreed late Monday to form an alliance that includes the Greens, the Socialists, the Communists and the far-left France Unbowed.
National Rally leader Marine Le Pen is working to consolidate power on the right in efforts to translate the European triumph into a national win and come closer to claiming power. Her party is expected to win the most French seats in the European Parliament, potentially as many as 30 of France’s 81.


Ship meant to house police for G7 summit seized over poor conditions

Updated 12 June 2024
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Ship meant to house police for G7 summit seized over poor conditions

  • Officers were meant to be accommodated on the Mykonos Magic ship – renamed Goddess of the Night – docked in the city of Brindisi
  • Initial investigations showed ‘significant hygienic-sanitary criticalities and serious accommodation deficiencies’

BARI, Italy: A ship that had been set to host more than 2,000 police officers providing security at this week’s Group of Seven leaders’ summit was impounded on Wednesday after complaints over poor conditions aboard, police said.
The officers were meant to be accommodated on the Mykonos Magic ship — renamed Goddess of the Night — docked in the city of Brindisi, some 60 kilometers (37.28 miles) from Borgo Egnazia, a luxury resort in the southern Puglia region which will host the G7 meeting on June 13-15.
Earlier this week, unions bemoaned poor sanitary conditions aboard, saying many cabins could not be used, that there were water leaks, unusable toilets and broken air conditioning, forcing those onboard to be moved to hotels and another ship.
Initial investigations showed “significant hygienic-sanitary criticalities and serious accommodation deficiencies,” which could amount to the crime of fraud in public supply, a police statement said.
Police said the vessel had been seized following an order from prosecutors in Brindisi to allow further investigations.
In an earlier statement, police also said they were considering taking legal action against the owner of the ship. Italian media reported the government had paid around 6 million euros ($6.46 million) to rent it for the duration of the G7.
Reuters was unable to locate contact information for the company identified by police as owners of the ship.


Azerbaijan says Russian peacekeepers have completed withdrawal

Updated 12 June 2024
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Azerbaijan says Russian peacekeepers have completed withdrawal

  • The withdrawal has been agreed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev
  • The territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan despite historically being home to a majority Armenian population

BAKU: Russian peacekeepers on Wednesday completed their withdrawal from Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Baku recaptured last year from Armenian separatists, officials in Baku said.
Azerbaijan and Armenia had fought two wars — in 2020 and in the 1990s — for control of the then-breakaway enclave.
“The process of the full withdrawal of the manpower, weapons, and equipment of Russia’s peacekeeping contingent (in Karabakh) from Azerbaijan was completed on June 12,” the defense ministry in Baku said in a statement.
The withdrawal, which began in April, has been agreed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev.
Last September, Baku took over the territory in a lightning one-day offensive that triggered a refugee crisis. Almost the entire local population of around 100,000 ethnic Armenians left for Armenia, fearing reprisals and repression.
The territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan despite historically being home to a majority Armenian population. It was controlled by pro-Yerevan separatists for nearly three decades.
The conflict has seen ties sour between traditional allies Russia and Armenia, with Yerevan accusing the Kremlin of failing to protect it in the face of a security threat from Azerbaijan.
After the loss of Karabakh, Yerevan has sought to forge new security alliances by deepening ties with the West.
On Tuesday, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia James O’Brien issued a joint statement saying Washington and Yerevan have agreed to “upgrade the status of our bilateral dialogue to a Strategic Partnership Commission.”
Last month, Yerevan returned to Azerbaijan four frontier villages which it had captured in the 1990s.
The move, which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has defended as aimed at securing a definitive peace deal with Baku, sparked a wave of mass protests in Armenia.