12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

People holding umbrellas walk past a damaged house and uprooted tree during rainfall in Guwahati on May 28, 2024, following the landfall of Cyclone Remal in India. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

  • Several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides, and all schools were shut
  • India’s weather office warned of extremely heavy rains in northeastern states on Tuesday

Guwahati: Torrential rains in the wake of a powerful cyclone caused the collapse of a quarry in India’s Mizoram state killing 12 people, government officials said Tuesday.

“So far 12 bodies have been found, we are looking for more,” deputy commissioner of Aizawl district Nazuk Kumar told AFP.

Rescue efforts in the quarry were being hampered by “heavy rains,” police director general Anil Shukla said, NDTV news network reported.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma offered compensation to families of the victims of the “landslide due to Cyclone Remal.”

“I pray for the success of rescue and relief operations and wish a speedy recovery of the injured,” India’s President Droupadi Murmu said on social media.

In Mizoram, several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides. All schools were shut and government employees asked to work from home.

India’s weather office has issued warnings of extremely heavy rainfall across Mizoram and other northeastern states on Tuesday.

In India’s neighboring Assam state, one person was killed and heavy rains had cut the power supply, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a statement.

The cyclone made landfall in low-lying Bangladesh and neighboring India on Sunday evening with fierce gales and crashing waves.

Overall, at least 38 people died in the cyclone or storms in its wake.

In India, eight people died in West Bengal state, officials said Tuesday, updating an earlier toll of six, taking the total killed in the country to at least 21.

In neighboring Bangladesh, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that made landfall on Sunday, at least 17 people died, according to the disaster management office and police.


Trump and Biden do battle in first US presidential debate

Updated 42 sec ago
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Trump and Biden do battle in first US presidential debate

  • For Trump, the 90-minute clash is a chance to drive home worries about 81-year-old Biden’s mental alertness — although the Republican, 78, has faced age concerns of his own
  • For Biden, the first ever debate between a sitting and former president will be an opportunity to underline the legal challenges engulfing Trump and to paint him as unfit for office

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden and Donald Trump square off for a historic US presidential debate this week, with the stage set for what could be a pivotal moment in the 2024 race as millions of potential voters tune in.
The showdown fires the starting gun on what promises to be a bruising summer on the campaign trail, in a deeply polarized and tense United States still convulsed over the chaos and violence that accompanied the 2020 election.
With only two debates this cycle, Thursday’s high-stakes clash takes on heightened significance, and both candidates have stepped up their personal attacks, with national polls showing the pair neck and neck.
“The debate is important because it’s an opportunity for two well-known candidates to ‘reintroduce’ themselves to a public that knows them well but hasn’t been paying attention,” said Donald Nieman, a political analyst and history professor at Binghamton University in New York state.
“The big question is how much of the public — beyond political aficionados — will pay attention to such an early debate.”
For Trump, the 90-minute clash is a chance to drive home worries about 81-year-old Biden’s mental alertness — although the Republican, 78, has faced age concerns of his own.
For Biden, the first ever debate between a sitting and former president will be an opportunity to underline the legal challenges engulfing Trump and to paint him as unfit for office.
The president will also be desperate to avoid any major gaffes — which, on this stage, could lose him the November election.

The debate comes in the wake of a criminal trial that has consumed Trump’s attention for months — with his sentencing on 34 convictions for falsifying business records scheduled for July 11.
Both candidates shunned the bipartisan commission that has run debates since 1988, deciding instead to go with CNN for a first showdown unusually early in the year, and another on ABC on September 10.
Abortion, the state of US democracy and foreign conflicts are all issues of concern to voters, although inflation and border security are likely to loom largest.
The last debates between the two men in 2020 were fraught, with Biden at one point snapping “will you shut up, man?” as Trump repeatedly interrupted him.
This time, moderators have more tools than usual to maintain decorum, with the microphones muted except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak.
“Trump is notoriously undisciplined and is likely to chafe at not being able to dominate the event by talking over his opponent and drawing out time with his long-winded, insult-laden tirades,” said political scientist Nicholas Creel, of Georgia College and State University.
“Biden is also counting on this debate reminding Americans of the chaos that was the Trump presidency, so Trump being unable to abide by the rules and performing poorly as a result is a very striking possibility.”

But debates are about soundbites on social media as much as policy arguments, and both candidates will look for explosive viral moments.
“I’ll be looking for whether former president Trump tries to become more ‘presidential’ in any respect, though the campaign trail would suggest the answer to that is no,” said Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University.
The Biden campaign released an ad last week hitting Trump over his criminal convictions as the president headed to his mountainside retreat at Camp David to fine-tune attack lines and rebuttals.
Trump — who struggles in granular discussions of policy — huddled with aides and vice presidential hopefuls at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where the emphasis was more on tone and broad substance than detail.
Trump would benefit by sticking to a script, highlighting Biden’s weaknesses on inflation and immigration and dialing down the bombast, said Nieman, the Binghamton analyst.
“It would disappoint his base, but it would go far to make inroads with suburban, college-educated women,” he told AFP.
 


With its new pact with North Korea, Russia raises the stakes with the West over Ukraine

Updated 24 June 2024
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With its new pact with North Korea, Russia raises the stakes with the West over Ukraine

  • The new agreement with Pyongyang marked the strongest link between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War

MOSCOW: Behind the smiles, the balloons and the red-carpet pageantry of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to North Korea last week, a strong signal came through: In the spiraling confrontation with the US and its allies over Ukraine, the Russian leader is willing to challenge Western interests like never before.
The pact that he signed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un envisions mutual military assistance between Moscow and Pyongyang if either is attacked. Putin also announced for the first time that Russia could provide weapons to the isolated country, a move that could destabilize the Korean Peninsula and reverberate far beyond.
He described the potential arms shipments as a response to NATO allies providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons to attack Russia. He bluntly declared that Moscow has nothing to lose and is prepared to go “to the end” to achieve its goals in Ukraine.
Putin’s moves added to concerns in Washington and Seoul about what they see as an alliance in which North Korea provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
A landmark pact
The new agreement with Pyongyang marked the strongest link between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War.
Kim said it raised bilateral relations to the level of an alliance, while Putin was more cautious, noting the pledge of mutual military assistance mirrored a 1961 treaty between the Soviet Union and North Korea. That agreement was discarded after the Soviet collapse and replaced with a weaker one in 2000 when Putin first visited Pyongyang.
Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations noted that when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed the deal with Pyongyang in 1961, he also tested the world’s biggest nuclear bomb, built the Berlin Wall and probably started thinking about moves that led to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
“The question for Western policymakers now is whether Putin is becoming comparably reckless,” Sestanovich said in a commentary. “His language in North Korea — where he denounced the United States as a ‘worldwide neocolonialist dictatorship’ — might make you think so.”
South Korea responded by declaring it would consider sending arms to Ukraine in a major policy change for Seoul, which so far only has sent humanitarian assistance to Kyiv under a longstanding policy of not supplying weapons to countries engaged in conflict.
Putin insisted Seoul has nothing to worry about, since the new pact only envisions military assistance in case of aggression and should act as a deterrent to prevent a conflict. He strongly warned South Korea against providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, saying it would be a “very big mistake.”
“If that happens, then we will also make corresponding decisions that will hardly please the current leadership of South Korea,” he said.
Asked whether North Korean troops could fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine under the pact, Putin said there was no need for that.
Potential weapons for Pyongyang
Last month, Putin warned that Russia could provide long-range weapons to others to hit Western targets in response to NATO allies allowing Ukraine to use its allies’ arms to make limited attacks inside Russian territory.
He followed up on that warning Thursday with an explicit threat to provide weapons to North Korea.
“I wouldn’t exclude that in view of our agreements with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Putin said, adding that Moscow could mirror the arguments by NATO allies that it’s up to Ukraine to decide how to use Western weapons.
“We can similarly say that we supply something to somebody but have no control over what happens afterward,” Putin said. “Let them think about it.”
Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that Moscow could share weapons technologies with Pyongyang to help improve its ballistic missile capabilities, noting there is evidence of this happening already, with Russia possibly providing help to North Korea with its successful satellite launch in November, two months after Kim last met Putin.
“This is deeply concerning because of the substantial overlap between the technologies used for space launches and intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Terry said in a commentary. “Russia can also provide North Korea with critical help in areas where its capabilities are still nascent, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles.”
While raising the prospect of arms supplies to Pyongyang that would violate UN sanctions, Putin also said Russia would take efforts at the world body to ease the restrictions — an apparent signal that Moscow may try to keep arms supplies to Pyongyang under the radar and maintain a degree of deniability to avoid accusations of breaching the sanctions.
Russia and North Korea have rejected assertions by the US and its allies that Pyongyang has given Moscow ballistic missiles and millions of artillery shells for use in Ukraine.
Going ‘to the end’ in a confrontation with the West
By explicitly linking prospective arms shipments to Pyongyang to Western moves on Ukraine, Putin warned Kyiv’s allies to back off as he pushes his goals in the war — or face a new round of confrontation.
“They are escalating the situation, apparently expecting that we will get scared at some point, and at the same time, they say that they want to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield,” Putin said. “For Russia, it will mean an end to its statehood, an end to the millennium-long history of the Russian state. And a question arises: Why should we be afraid? Isn’t it better, then, to go to the end?”
Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, said Putin’s statement reflected an attempt to discourage the US and its allies from ramping up support for Kyiv as Russia pushes new offensives in several sectors of the front line.
“The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous, and Russia believes that it should quickly rap the West over its knuckles to show that its deeper engagement in the war will have a price,” he said in remarks carried by Dozhd, an independent Russian broadcaster.
He noted that Putin’s statement that Moscow wouldn’t know where its arms end up if sent to Pyongyang could have been a hint at North Korea’s role as an arms exporter.
Treading cautiously with China
Putin’s visits to North Korea handed a new challenge to Pyongyang’s top ally, China, potentially allowing Kim to hedge his bets and reduce his excessive reliance on Beijing.
China so far has avoided comment on the new pact, but many experts argue that Beijing won’t like losing sway over its neighbor.
Ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, Russia has come to increasingly depend on China as the main market for its energy exports and the source of high-tech technologies in the face of Western sanctions. While forging a revamped relationship with Pyongyang, the Kremlin will likely tread cautiously to avoid angering Beijing.
“Whether this upgraded Russia–North Korea relationship will be without limits depends upon China,” which will watch events closely, said Edward Howell of Chatham House in a commentary. “Beijing will have taken stern note of Kim Jong Un’s claim that Russia is North Korea’s ‘most honest friend.’ Despite the likely increase in cooperation in advanced military technology between Moscow and Pyongyang, China remains North Korea’s largest economic partner.”

 


IAEA urges halt to attacks on town near Ukrainian nuclear plant

Updated 24 June 2024
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IAEA urges halt to attacks on town near Ukrainian nuclear plant

  • The Zaporizhzhia plant’s Russia-installed management said some “infrastructure facilities” including the transport department and print shop experienced disruptions, but that nuclear safety measures remained fully operational

MOSCOW: The UN’s nuclear watchdog called on Sunday for a halt to attacks on Enerhodar, a town near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station after drone strikes this week hit two electricity substations serving the area.
The plant’s Russian-installed officials accused Ukraine of staging two drone strikes that destroyed one substation, damaged another and cut power to residents for a time.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made no reference to Ukraine and said the incidents had no affect on the Zaporizhzhia plant’s operations.
But he said the attacks had to stop.
“Whoever is behind this, it must stop. Drone usage against the plant and its vicinity is becoming increasingly more frequent,” Grossi said in a statement on the IAEA website.
“This is completely unacceptable and it runs counter to the safety pillars and concrete principles which have been accepted unanimously.”
Power had been cut to Enerhodar, a few kilometers from the plant, for 16 hours, he said. But neither of the attacks, which occurred on Wednesday and Friday, had any impact on the power lines that the nuclear plant uses to keep operating.
The Zaporizhzhia plant’s Russia-installed management said some “infrastructure facilities” including the transport department and print shop experienced disruptions, but that nuclear safety measures remained fully operational.
Ukrainian officials have made no comment on the incidents and Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the attacks exposed Ukraine’s disregard for nuclear safety.
Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in the early days of the February 2022 invasion, and Moscow and Kyiv have since regularly accused each other of endangering safety around the facility. It produces no electricity at the moment.
The IAEA maintains inspectors at the station.
Russia launched mass attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in the first winter of the conflict and resumed a long series of attacks in March. Kyiv says the renewed attacks have knocked out half of its energy-generating capacity. 

 


Millions in the US prepare for more sweltering heat as floodwaters inundate parts of the Midwest

Updated 24 June 2024
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Millions in the US prepare for more sweltering heat as floodwaters inundate parts of the Midwest

  • An AP analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that excessive heat contributed to more than 2,300 deaths, the highest in 45 years of records

WASHINGTON: Millions of Americans prepared to sweat through yet another scorching day, with the potential for rolling storms later Sunday to bring relief from the sweltering heat for at least some. Floodwaters inundated parts of the Midwest, including a town in Iowa whose own water-level gauge was submerged.
From the mid-Atlantic to Maine, across much of the Midwest and throughout inland California, public officials cautioned residents sweating through the heat and humidity. In Oklahoma, the heat index — what the temperature feels like to the human body — was expected to reach 107 degrees (41 degrees Celsius) on Sunday.
In the Midwest where South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota meet, floodwaters rose through the weekend. In northwest Iowa, 13 rivers flooded the area, said Eric Tigges of Clay County emergency management. Entire neighborhoods — and at least one entire town — were evacuated, and the town of Spencer imposed a curfew Sunday for the second night in a row after flooding that surpassed the record set in 1953.
“When the flood gauge is underwater, it’s really high,” Tigges said in a news conference organized by Spencer officials.
Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a disaster for 21 counties in northern Iowa, including Sioux County. In drone video posted by the local sheriff, no streets were visible, just roofs and treetops poking above the water.
In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem declared an emergency after the southeastern part of the state bordering Nebraska received heavy rainfall. Several highways were closed. Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, had more than 7 inches (17.7 centimeters) of rain in three days.
“Even though the rain is slowing down, we need to keep vigilant,” said Noem. “The worst of the flooding along our rivers will be Monday and Tuesday.”
Emergency management officials in the small South Dakota community of Dakota Dunes on Sunday issued a voluntary evacuation order for the area’s roughly 4,000 residents. Dakota Dunes is near the Nebraska and Iowa borders and is sandwiched between the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers, both of which are expected to crest in the coming days. Emergency management in Dakota Dunes warned residents that a mandatory evacuation could come quickly if flood barriers are breached.
But elsewhere, the heat was the biggest worry.
“It’s more important for people who are going to be outside to stay hydrated, because heat, humidity and low winds, even if you’re in good shape and not really acclimated to it, it could be a danger, ” said Bruce Thoren, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oklahoma. “It happens quickly.”
The cities of Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia all saw record heat on Saturday with more high temperatures expected Sunday.
Lamont Cousins, who owns the Ampersea restaurant on Baltimore’s waterfront, said business had been slow this weekend. The 40 outdoor dining seats at the restaurant, usually packed this time of year, were empty until around dinnertime Saturday.
“I think it’s affected us because people are staying home scared,” he said.
On Saturday morning, when he went to put umbrellas on the tables, it was already over 90 degrees. But Cousins said he’s not too worried about the lost business – and he expected Sunday would be better.
“Yesterday, it was nobody walking around. It’s hotter today, but there’s a breeze going. Yesterday, it just felt like I was being punished.”
Last year the US experienced the most heat waves since 1936, experts said. An AP analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that excessive heat contributed to more than 2,300 deaths, the highest in 45 years of records.
The National Weather Service warned of the potential for rare tornadoes in the Northeast later Sunday. Tornadoes on Saturday struck in Wisconsin, leveling the historic Apple Grove Lutheran Church, founded in 1893 in the town of Argyle.
“The good news is we are all safe,” Dan Bohlman, pastor of Apple Grove Lutheran Church, said on the church website.
Marvin Boyd, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont, said a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for parts of northern New York as a storm with wind gusts exceeding 60 mph (95 kph) and the threat of tornadoes heads toward Vermont near Lake Champlain. It is one of several expected to pass through the region Sunday afternoon.
“It’s an unusual alignment of ingredients for Vermont and northern New York to produce a threat of tornadoes,” Boyd said.
 

 


French feminists march against far right with days before vote

Updated 23 June 2024
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French feminists march against far right with days before vote

  • Macron’s alliance would open up to “all who want to come, from the conservative right to the social-democratic left,” Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe told broadcaster France 3

PARIS: Thousands of people turned out in France on Sunday for feminist demonstrations against the far right, which is expected to come out on top in June 30 snap elections, as parties sought to shore up support with days to go.
With the far-right National Rally (RN) polling at around 35 percent, “we have to remind people that they’re the ones who talked about ‘comfort abortions’, who are always attacking family planning services,” said Morgane Legras, a nuclear engineer and feminist activist taking part in the Paris march.
There were between 13,000 (police estimate) and 75,000 (organizers’ estimate) people at Sunday’s demonstration.
Protesters, many wearing violet, marched from the Place de la Republique square in central Paris to Place de la Nation in the east, bearing signs with messages such as “Push back the far right, not our rights.”
Police sources said 53 rallies took place across the country, and said 33,800 people had taken part.
France’s two-round election system makes it difficult to predict which party could ultimately claim a majority in the lower house of parliament, handing them the prime minister’s post which is second in power only to President Emmanuel Macron.
Since Macron dissolved parliament after a European Parliament election battering, his centrists are badly lagging the RN as well as a reforged left-wing alliance called the New Popular Front (NFP) in surveys of voting intentions.
The RN has garnered unprecedented levels of support after a decades-long “de-demonization” push to distance its image from its roots, including a co-founder who was a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS paramilitary.
But the core of its message remains hostility to immigration, Islam and the European Union.
Senior RN lawmaker Sebastien Chenu gestured toward Muslim and Jewish voters Sunday by vowing not to ban the ritual slaughter of livestock to produce halal or kosher meat.
“Everyone will be able to keep eating kosher meat if they want,” Chenu told Jewish broadcaster Radio J.
He added that a historic far-right policy of barring the kippa in public spaces — in the footsteps of an existing law forbidding the full-body burka worn by some Muslim women — was not top of the RN’s agenda, saying its priority was to fight “the Islamist threat.”
In Macron’s camp, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal acknowledged that the European Parliament result — where they scored just 14 percent — was “a message to us that we have to do better with our methods, with our governance” of the country.
If his party defies the odds to come top in the legislative polls, he vowed “change,” including a turn to “seeking out coalitions with the French public, with civil society” in an interview with broadcaster RTL.
Macron’s alliance would open up to “all who want to come, from the conservative right to the social-democratic left,” Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe told broadcaster France 3.
Attal also hammered the centrists’ mantra about the threats from “extremes” on the left and right, saying both promised a “tax bludgeoning... a shredder for the middle classes.”
The RN especially is “not ready to govern... it’s a party of opposition, not a party of government,” Attal said.
In a sign of the disquiet abroad over Macron’s snap poll gamble, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday he was “concerned about the elections in France,” though “it’s up to the French people to decide.”
The left-wing NFP alliance continued to show strains Sunday, after parties hastily re-knitted ties sundered over differing responses to Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and the ongoing retaliation by Israeli forces in Gaza.
Divisions are particularly stark over whether their candidate for prime minister should be Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of France Unbowed (LFI) — the largest party in the grouping, some of whose members have been accused of anti-Semitism.
Melenchon should “shut up,” former Socialist president Francois Hollande said Sunday, as “people reject him more strongly” than the RN’s leaders Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella.
“Do we want the left to win, or do we want to be stoking conflict?” he said.
Melenchon said on Saturday that he aimed “to govern the country.”