European charity ship rescues 135 migrants but is assigned to distant port in Italy with 359 aboard

A migrant is helped by a crew member of the rescue ship Ocean Viking run by NGO SOS Mediterranee during a search and rescue operation in the central Mediterranean Sea, on Mar. 13, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 March 2024
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European charity ship rescues 135 migrants but is assigned to distant port in Italy with 359 aboard

  • Migrants often flee war and poverty in their own countries in search of a better life in European nations
  • The Ocean Viking spotted the dinghy with 25 people on board Wednesday

ROME: The European charity ship Ocean Viking said Friday it rescued another 135 migrants, including a pregnant woman and eight children, from a double-decker boat in Maltese search-and-rescue waters.
In total, the vessel operated by the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee was carrying 359 shipwreck survivors, it said, adding the ship had been assigned to the distant port at Ancona, in Italy’s central Marche region.
“Such a long navigation should never be imposed on persons rescued at sea,” the rescue organization wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Non-governmental organizations operating in the central Mediterranean Sea have repeatedly warned that the far-right-led Italian government’s policy of assigning ports farther north keeps their rescue ships out of waters where they can be saving lives.
Migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, often flee war and poverty in their own countries in search of a better life in European nations via the Mediterranean Sea.
Rome has recently ordered the ships to port after each rescue, punishing groups that conduct other rescues by holding ships in port for 20 days at a time.
The Ocean Viking has been subject to three such blocks over three months, the most recently from Feb. 8 until a judge lifted the block 10 days later.
Friday’s rescue came a day after survivors saved from a deflating rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean on Thursday reported that some 60 people who departed from Libya with them more than a week ago had perished during the journey.
The Ocean Viking spotted the dinghy with 25 people on board Wednesday. Two were unconscious and were evacuated to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, some 60 miles (97 kilometers) to the north. The other 23 were in serious condition, exhausted, dehydrated and with burns from fuel on board the boat.
An SOS Mediterranee spokesman said the survivors were traumatized and unable to give full accounts of what had transpired during the voyage, adding that the number of missing and presumed dead was unlikely to ever be verified.
Humanitarian groups often rely on accounts of survivors when pulling together the numbers of dead and missing at sea, presumed to have died.
The UN International Organization for Migration says 227 people have died along the perilous central Mediterranean route this year through March 11, not counting the new reported missing and presumed dead. That’s out of a total 279 deaths in the Mediterranean since Jan. 1. A total of 19,562 people arrived in Italy using that route in the period.


Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’

Updated 22 June 2024
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Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’

  • “I have no scores to settle at all. That’s all in the past,” Hollande said
  • Now just two years into the younger man’s second term, “Macronism is over, if indeed it ever existed. But it’s over, I say it with no special hostility,” Hollande said

USSEL, France: French President Emmanuel Macron’s ascendancy is “over,” former head of state Francois Hollande told AFP Saturday, after his former protege called a snap election likely to hand massive gains to the far right.
“I have no scores to settle at all. That’s all in the past,” Hollande said on the campaign trail in his native Correze department in central France, where he is standing to be an MP.
Suffering at the time from abysmal poll ratings, Socialist Hollande did not himself stand for a second term at the 2017 election.
Running as a pro-business centrist, his former economy minister Macron pulled off a surprise win that shattered traditional governing parties on the left and the right.
Now just two years into the younger man’s second term, “Macronism is over, if indeed it ever existed. But it’s over, I say it with no special hostility,” Hollande said.
“I don’t mean that his presidential term is coming to an end, that’s something different. But what he may have represented for a time is over,” he added.
Re-elected in 2022 for a second five-year term, Macron lost his absolute majority in parliament in legislative polls the same year.
His party has limped on in minority government, passing hard-fought and controversial reforms including raising the pension age and toughening immigration law.
But a heavy defeat at June 9’s European Parliament election prompted Macron to dissolve parliament in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
A new chamber will be elected on June 30 and July 7 with the far-right National Rally (RN) looking set to win the most seats.
France’s two-round electoral system makes predicting outcomes tricky, but it is highly unlikely that Macron’s gamble will pay off by winning a new majority.
Instead, he could find himself presiding over a government run by an ideological opponent.
Macron’s rule has “had a heavy political cost,” Hollande said.
“The parties were heavily damaged and public morale was too. The far right has never been so strong.”
Hollande’s Socialist party has formed an electoral alliance with other left parties including Greens, Communists and hard-left France Unbowed (LFI).
Their New Popular Front (NFP) is currently running second to the RN in the polls, both well ahead of Macron’s Renaissance outfit.
“It’s time for a political realignment,” Hollande said.
“I didn’t plan to stand for any election in my position, something very serious had to happen” in the shape of the RN’s more than 31 percent in the European election, he added.
Some Socialist voters have struggled with the idea of backing an alliance with LFI and its fiery leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, with some party figures accused of anti-Semitism and a history of Euroskeptic statements.
“I’m in the framework of an alliance because it has to be done, but there’s no kind of confusion” between his positions and Melenchon’s, Hollande said.
If elected, “I’ll be an MP who will call for responsibility whatever happens... vigilant and committed to finding solutions,” he added.


Tourists banned from Italy’s Capri over water shortage

Updated 22 June 2024
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Tourists banned from Italy’s Capri over water shortage

  • The ban by Capri mayor Paolo Falco forced several ferries on their way to the island from Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy to turn back
  • Falco warned of “a real emergency“

ROME: The Italian island of Capri banned tourists from disembarking Saturday after problems with the water supply from the mainland threatened to leave the holiday hotspot parched.
The ban by Capri mayor Paolo Falco forced several ferries on their way to the island from Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy to turn back.
The company charged with supplying the island with water said there had been a technical problem on the mainland on Thursday, and while that had since been fixed problems with the supply to Capri remained.
Falco warned of “a real emergency” and said that while there was still water on most of the island on Friday, local tanks were “running out.”
“The emergency would be worsened by the arrival of the thousands of tourists which arrive on Capri daily,” he said.
Locals could collect up to 25 liters of drinking water per household from a supply tanker, he said.
The ban, which does not apply to residents, will be in place until further notice.
Capri, in the Bay of Naples, is famed for its white villas, cove-studded coastline and upscale hotels. There are some 13,000 permanent residents but huge numbers of day-trippers in summer months.


Russian bomb attack kills three, injures 29 in Ukraine’s Kharkiv

Updated 22 June 2024
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Russian bomb attack kills three, injures 29 in Ukraine’s Kharkiv

  • Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko put the casualty toll at three dead and 29 injured
  • “This Russian terror through guided bombs must be stopped and can be stopped,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram

KYIV: Russian guided bombs struck an apartment building in Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, on Saturday, killing three people, injuring 29 and prompting President Volodymyr Zelensky to call for more help from Kyiv’s allies.
Pictures posted online showed parts of an apartment building in ruins, with windows smashed, balconies shattered and rubble strewn about a crater on the ground.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko put the casualty toll at three dead and 29 injured in the mid-afternoon attack. Regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said two children were among the injured and four of those hurt were in serious condition.
“This Russian terror through guided bombs must be stopped and can be stopped,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram.
“We need strong decisions from our partners to enable us to stop the Russian terrorists and Russian military aviation right where they are.”
Syniehubov said rescue work was proceeding. Other civilian targets had also been hit and public transport halted.
Mayor Ihor Terekhov said there had been four strikes.
Kharkiv lies about 30 km (20 miles) from the border with Russia. The city of about 1.3 million people has frequently been targeted in Russian attacks during nearly 28 months of war.
Russia has relied increasingly on the use of the bombs, relatively inexpensive, dropped from a distance and involving fewer risks for its forces.


Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

Updated 22 June 2024
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Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

  • Clashes between Myanmar junta and insurgents started in October 2023
  • Deadly fighting engulfs Rohingya-inhabited border areas

DHAKA: Bangladesh will not take in any more Rohingya fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said on Saturday, amid reports that people from the areas affected by fighting have been gathering on the border.

Concerns that a war between Myanmar’s junta and the opposition ethnic-minority Arakan Army would trigger a new wave of refugees seeking safety in Bangladesh have been on the rise over the past few months.

Clashes between Myanmar’s military-controlled government forces and insurgents in Rakhine and Chin States started in late October 2023 with a multi-pronged offensive against the junta, which has been in control of the country since early 2021.

Most of the Rohingya — hundreds of thousands of whom fled to Bangladesh following a brutal military crackdown and persecution in 2017 — come from Rakhine. One of the most heavily Rohingya-populated areas in the state, Maungdaw, has been under the control of the Arakan Army, which last week warned it was expecting the junta to attempt to recapture it.

“On the other side of the border in Myanmar, a fierce gunbattle is happening and, every day, people are dying. Maungdaw town is a predominantly Rohingya-inhabited area,” Rahman told Arab News.

“We have heard that (some) Rohingyas have tried to enter Bangladesh ... (they) have gathered on the border on the Myanmar side, mainly near the Teknaf subdistrict under Cox’s Bazar.”

More than a million Rohingya Muslims currently live in squalid camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, turning the coastal district into the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Rahman said Bangladesh cannot receive more refugees and will not allow any more Rohingya to enter the country from Myanmar.

“The Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar camps are very anxious about the safety and fate of their relatives living in Maungdaw and the surrounding area,” he said. “(But) we can’t receive any more Rohingyas, as Bangladesh is already overburdened with more than 1 million. Our stand is that not a single more Rohingya will enter our land.”

The UN estimates that 95 percent of Rohingya refugees are dependent on humanitarian assistance, which has been dropping since 2020, despite urgent pleas for donations by the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The protracted humanitarian crisis has started to affect the host community, which, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, has been supporting the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, healthcare and a huge law-enforcement presence.

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief estimates the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining infrastructure for refugees.


Agricultural fire that killed 12 in southeast Turkey under control, media says

Updated 22 June 2024
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Agricultural fire that killed 12 in southeast Turkey under control, media says

ANKARA: Turkish authorities have brought under control an agricultural fire that killed 12 people and wounded 78 others in a region near the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq, local media reported on Saturday.
The fire had started late on Thursday due to the burning of straw and spread because of strong winds, the local governor's office said. Authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said in a post on X on Friday.
Broadcaster NTV and others said the fire was now under control and authorities were working to cool the scorched areas. NTV said many animals trapped in the fire were also killed.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Friday that the treatment of the wounded was still underway, with some in critical condition.
"We are continuing the treatment and monitoring of five of our wounded. Three of our five wounded receiving treatment in Diyarbakir are intubated," Koca said on X.
Burning straw is a common practice by farmers and villagers in central Anatolia following harvest periods.