Greece wildfire destroys area bigger than New York City

People look at the wildfire raging in a forest in Sikorahi, near Alexandroupoli, northern Greece, on August 23, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 29 August 2023

Greece wildfire destroys area bigger than New York City

  • Environmentalists have long accused Greece of spending more funds on extinguishing fires than on prevention

EVROS, Greece/ATHENS: A wildfire burning in northeastern Greece for 11 days has destroyed an area larger than New York City, the European Union-backed Copernicus Climate Change Service said on Tuesday, as firefighters from five countries battled to contain the flames.
Fuelled by gale force winds and hot weather, the fire that began near the city of Alexandroupolis quickly spread across the Evros region, killing at least 20 people last week in Europe’s deadliest blaze this summer. It turned lush greenery into scorched earth and destroyed homes and livelihoods.
In a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service said the fire had ravaged at least 808.7 square kilometers (312.2 square miles). New York City takes up 778.2 square kilometers (300.5 square miles).
Copernicus said last week the fire was the largest on European soil in years, and authorities said the fire was still highly dangerous.
Aircraft and hundreds of firefighters on the ground, including from Albania, Serbia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, were battling the flames, the fire brigade said.
“We are trying to defend the rest of the unaffected area before the front line of the fire comes,” said Jiri Nemcik, commander of the Czech team. “The development of the fire is very dynamic so it’s very dangerous.”
Satellite images highlight the extent of the destruction in the area where formerly lush pine trees have been reduced to blackened, skeletal bark.
Panagiota Maragou, head of conservation at the Greece division of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said at least 30 percent of the National Park of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest had been lost.
Because of its high biodiversity, the national park was “one of the most important protected areas in Greece and also in Europe, perhaps also on an international scale,” she said.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a meeting on Tuesday on the fires that have ravaged Greece, touching on preventative measures among other issues, a statement from his office said.
Environmentalists have long accused Greece of spending more funds on extinguishing fires than on prevention.
“We’ve seen in the case of Dadia and in the case of the Evros fire in general ... one of the biggest fires in Europe, that a system that relies exclusively on suppression of fires is not working,” Maragou said.
Summer wildfires are common in Greece but the government says extreme weather conditions that scientists link to climate change have made them worse this year. Greece’s deadliest fire on record killed 104 people outside Athens in 2018.
All but one of the dead in the Evros fire are believed to have been irregular migrants who crossed over from Turkiye, evading police in the forest. Authorities fear more bodies may be found when the flames are put out, as Evros is a popular crossing into the EU for thousands of migrants and refugees every year.
The fires have spurred anti-immigrant sentiment in the region, according to Greece’s Racist Violence Recording Network.
Last week, police detained three men after a video emerged on social media showing migrants in a trailer pulled by a jeep, and a man heard urging civilians to “round up” migrants he accused of setting the fires.
On Tuesday, a prosecutor launched a preliminary investigation into a separate incident after another video posted on social media showed four men, believed to be migrants, sitting on a dirt track beside a jeep, and a local man filming them, according to an official at the citizens’ protection ministry.
The official said the man, who appeared at the Alexandroupolis police headquarters, had been wanted for his alleged involvement in the “forcible immobilization” of migrants.


Once defiant, President Biden is now ‘soul searching’ about dropping out of race, source says

Updated 6 sec ago

Once defiant, President Biden is now ‘soul searching’ about dropping out of race, source says

REHOBOTH BEACH, Delaware: US President Joe Biden is taking calls to step aside as the Democratic presidential candidate seriously and multiple Democratic officials think an exit is a matter of time, according to sources familiar with the matter.
“His soul searching is actually happening, I know that for a fact,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity. “He’s thinking about this very seriously.”
Biden, 81, has faced increasing pressure from heavyweights in his party to cede his position at the top of the ticket after a shoddy debate performance against former President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, raised fears about his age and ability to win in November.
The president has pushed back defiantly against those calls, arguing that he has won millions of votes in primary races over the last several months and is Democratic voters’ choice. As recently as Wednesday, he vowed “I am all in” the 2024 race.
Another of the sources, a Democratic congressional aide, said the writing appeared to be on the wall for the president after lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly urged him to drop out of the race.
“It feels like it’s a matter of ... when, not if,” the aide said.
Biden is convalescing from COVID-19 at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He had no public events on Thursday after concluding a trip to the political swing state of Nevada on Wednesday.
Biden’s campaign is
focusing on three out of seven battleground states
after the debate, a narrow path to victory, but it has rejected suggestions that he is ready to step aside.
“He is not wavering on anything. The president has made his decision,” deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said in Milwaukee, where the Republican convention is taking place. “Joe Biden has said he is running for president of the United States. Our campaign is moving forward.”
Another source, a Biden campaign official, said the opposite. “Yes, it’s over. Just a matter of time.”

Bangladesh protesters set state TV HQ ablaze as toll mounts, Internet cut

Updated 18 July 2024

Bangladesh protesters set state TV HQ ablaze as toll mounts, Internet cut

  • Death toll mounts to 32 as authorities impose “near-total” Internet blackout amid police’s clash with protesters
  • Protesters demand end to quota system reserving more than half of civil service posts for specific groups

DHAKA: Bangladeshi students set fire to the country’s state broadcaster on Thursday as protests against civil service hiring rules escalated, with the death toll mounting to at least 32 and monitors saying a “near-total” Internet blackout had been imposed.

Police fired with rubber bullets at hundreds of protesters, who fought back and chased retreating officers to the headquarters of Bangladesh Television (BTV) in the capital Dhaka.

Demonstrators set ablaze the network’s reception building and dozens of vehicles parked outside, with the broadcaster saying in a Facebook post that “many people” were trapped inside, although a station executive later told AFP they had safely evacuated the building.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appeared on the network seeking to calm the escalating clashes.

“Our first demand is that the prime minister must apologize to us,” protester Bidisha Rimjhim, 18, told AFP.

“Secondly, justice must be ensured for our killed brothers,” she added.

Widespread Internet outages went into effect, with websites for the Bangladesh home and foreign ministry, as well as the Dhaka Tribune and Daily Star newspapers, not available in the evening.

Bangladesh was experiencing a “near-total” Internet shutdown, outage monitor Netblocks said, posting a graphic online showing connectivity plummeting late Thursday from around 90 percent to about 10 percent.

It said the latest outage “follows earlier efforts to throttle social media and restrict mobile data services” — key communication tools for protest organizers.

Near-daily marches this month have demanded an end to a quota system that reserves more than half of civil service posts for specific groups, including children of veterans from the country’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Critics say the scheme benefits children of pro-government groups that back Hasina, 76, who has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.

Hasina’s government has ordered schools and universities to close indefinitely as police step up efforts to bring the deteriorating law and order situation under control.

Her administration is accused by rights groups of misusing state institutions to entrench its hold on power and stamping out dissent, including by the extrajudicial killing of opposition activists.

Mubashar Hasan, a Bangladesh expert at the University of Oslo in Norway, said the protests had grown into a wider expression of discontent with Hasina’s autocratic rule.

“They are protesting against the repressive nature of the state,” he told AFP.

“Protesters are questioning Hasina’s leadership, accusing her of clinging onto power by force,” he added. “The students are in fact calling her a dictator.”

The premier appeared on BTV on Wednesday night to condemn the “murder” of protesters and vow that those responsible will be punished regardless of political affiliation.

But violence worsened on the streets despite her appeal for calm as police again attempted to break up demonstrations with rubber bullets and tear gas volleys.

At least 25 people were killed on Thursday in addition to seven killed earlier in the week, with hundreds more wounded, according to an AFP tally based on hospital data.

Police weaponry was the cause of at least two-thirds of those deaths, based on descriptions given to AFP by hospital figures.

“We’ve got seven dead here,” an official at Uttara Crescent Hospital in Dhaka, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told AFP.

“The first two were students with rubber bullet injuries. The other five had gunshot injuries.”

Nearly 1,000 others had been treated at the hospital for injuries sustained during clashes, the official said, adding many had rubber bullet wounds.

Didar Malekin of the online news outlet Dhaka Times told AFP that Mehedi Hasan, one of his reporters, had been killed while covering clashes in Dhaka.

Several cities across Bangladesh saw violence throughout the day as riot police marched on protesters who had begun another round of human blockades on roads and highways.

Helicopters rescued 60 police officers who were trapped on the roof of a campus building at Canadian University, the scene of some of Dhaka’s fiercest clashes, the elite Rapid Action Battalion police force said in a statement.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric appealed for “restraint from all sides.”

“We urge the government to ensure a conducive environment for dialogue. And we encourage protesters to engage in dialogue to resolve the deadlock,” he told reporters.

“Violence is never a solution.”

Before the late near-total Internet shutdown, junior telecommunications minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak told reporters that social media had been “weaponized as a tool to spread rumors, lies and disinformation,” forcing the government to restrict access.

Along with police crackdowns, demonstrators and students allied to the premier’s ruling Awami League have also battled each other on the streets with hurled bricks and bamboo rods.

Rights group Amnesty International said video evidence from clashes this week showed that Bangladeshi security forces had used unlawful force.

Migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC

Updated 18 July 2024

Migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC

  • Asylum-seekers have gravitated to working food delivery in New York and other major cities

NEW YORK: Brad Song thought he was about to get his e-bike stolen a second time in a less than a month after delivering an order for Chinese food app Fantuan Delivery. Seven strangers surrounded the Chinese immigrant and knocked him off the scooter. He was rescued when a nearby motorist revved his engine, scaring the assailants.
His brakes were damaged and a phone used for navigation had its screen shattered, but, while the February attack in New York rattled Song, his bike and body emerged intact.
Asylum-seekers have gravitated to working food delivery in New York and other major cities, drawn by an abundance of customers and ease of getting started. But the job carries hazards, particularly thieves who target food delivery bikes. Newly arrived asylum-seekers have been easy targets. Some work without legal permission, which can make them fearful of seeking help in an emergency.
Dissatisfied with the police response, many delivery drivers have banded together.
Juan Solano, who migrated from the Mexican state of Guerrero in 2017, founded E l Diario de los Delivery Boys en la Gran Manzana, a group of delivery workers who help retrieve stolen e-bikes, often with the help of monitoring devices. Launched during the pandemic, the group has more than 50,000 followers on Facebook and a WhatsApp channel to alert delivery workers of robberies in real time.
Solano, 35, started working in food delivery during the pandemic with his nephew, Sergio, who had his e-bike stolen twice.
Thieves appear to target isolated areas near bridges that connect Manhattan to other boroughs, especially those with lighter police presence. They prey especially on those traveling alone.

White House: Biden expecting to meet Netanyahu next week

The Israeli and US governments have tentatively scheduled a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 July 2024

White House: Biden expecting to meet Netanyahu next week

  • Netanyahu will be in Washington next week for a July 24 address to a joint session of the US Congress
  • The two leaders have had strained relations for months over Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza conflict

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden expects to be able to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week depending on his recovery from COVID-19, the White House said on Thursday.
Netanyahu will be in Washington next week for a July 24 address to a joint session of the US Congress. The two governments have tentatively scheduled a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday.
Vice President Kamala Harris will also meet Netanyahu while he is in Washington, a White House official said.
Biden, under pressure from some fellow Democrats to not seek reelection due to a disastrous debate performance against Republican Donald Trump on June 27, tested positive on Wednesday for COVID-19 and is recuperating at his beach house in Delaware. His current plan is to return to Washington on Sunday.
The two leaders have had strained relations for months over Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza conflict where more than 38,000 people have been killed in Israel’s pursuit of Hamas militants responsible for the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed.
“We have every expectation that the two leaders will have the chance to see each other while Prime Minister Netanyahu is in town,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, without mentioning a specific date.
“Obviously we need to make sure that the president’s health and his recovery from COVID takes priority and if and how that might affect the discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, we’re just not in a position today to be able to help,” he told reporters.
The United States has been working with Qatar and Egypt to try to arrange a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict in order to free hostages held since Oct. 7 and get more humanitarian aid into the enclave
A US official said US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk was traveling to the Middle East on Thursday for consultations on the Gaza conflict, with stops planned in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, a US official said.
No deal appeared imminent. Kirby said McGurk’s trip was part of regular consultations.
Netanyahu’s visit would be his first visit to the White House since he returned to office in late 2022.
The Biden administration may have eased on one point of contention last week when it said it would resume shipping 500-pound bombs to Israel, though it said it would continue to hold back on supplying 2,000-pound bombs over concerns about their use in densely populated Gaza.
In June, Netanyahu had criticized the United States for withholding some weapons, prompting Biden’s aides to express disappointment and confusion over the Israeli leader’s remarks.
The invitation for Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress was orchestrated by the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership, which has accused the Democratic president of not being supportive enough of Israel’s strategy in the Gaza war.
Addresses to joint meetings of Congress by foreign leaders are a rare honor generally reserved for the closest US allies or major world figures.
Netanyahu’s speech could highlight differences over Israel policy between Biden and some progressive Democrats, especially if some of them follow through on their threat to boycott the Israeli leader’s appearance.

British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump

Updated 18 July 2024

British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump

  • Lammy admitted to LBC presenter Tom Swarbrick that he had not been aware the meeting was taking place

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary David Lammy expressed his concern on Thursday about a meeting between former UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Speaking on the LBC radio morning show, Lammy admitted to presenter Tom Swarbrick that he had not been aware the meeting was taking place.

Johnson posted a picture on social media of him meeting Trump at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, after which he said the former president was “on top form” and that they had discussed the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The foreign secretary was asked if Johnson had followed protocol by informing the UK Foreign Office of his meeting with Trump, to which Lammy replied: “I’m not sure that Boris Johnson consults either Keir Starmer or us on his plans. And I certainly didn’t know.”

Lammy refused to be drawn when pressed by Swarbrick on whether the meeting went against “UK national interests” or not.

“The record will show that I had a friendship with Barack Obama, prior to him becoming president of the United States of America, and about a year or so into office, he was dealing with David Cameron (as prime minister),” he said.

“I would never have done anything to prejudice the UK national interests at that time. So the point you’re making is a serious one. I would hope that all former prime ministers would act in the UK national interests and not cut across us, particularly two weeks into office.

“You know, I’m not interested, actually, in the past. I’m interested in the future.”