Wildfire rages outside Athens fanned by strong winds

Greek firefighters and aircraft battled a blaze in the town of Koropi 30 kilometres south of Athens on Wednesday as strong winds fanned the flames and forced residents to flee their homes and businesses. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 19 June 2024
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Wildfire rages outside Athens fanned by strong winds

  • Traffic was suspended along a main highway connecting Koropi to Athens suburbs
  • One storage facility was on fire and flames crept into a boat dry dock and across fields of dry grass and olive trees

ATHENS: Greek firefighters and aircraft battled a blaze in the town of Koropi 30 kilometres south of Athens on Wednesday as strong winds fanned the flames and forced residents to flee their homes and businesses.
Traffic was suspended along a main highway connecting Koropi to Athens suburbs. One storage facility was on fire and flames crept into a boat dry dock and across fields of dry grass and olive trees, images on local TV showed.
There were no reports of deaths or injuries, a fire service official told Reuters. Civil protection and authorities evacuated two nearby villages.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze. Four fire fighting planes, six helicopters, dozens of fire engines and more than 50 firefighters were dispatched to the scene, the fire service official said.
Much of the Athens area has had no rain for weeks, leaving large areas bone dry.
"I saved my home at the last moment. It all happened so fast," a resident whose face was blackened by smoke told local Skai TV channel.
Wildfires are common in the Mediterranean nation but they have become more devastating in recent years amid hotter and drier summers that scientists relate to the climate change.
After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and stepping up training.


Scholz says US long-range missiles in Germany to help ‘securing peace’

Updated 14 sec ago
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Scholz says US long-range missiles in Germany to help ‘securing peace’

  • Germany's chancellor defended the decision after Moscow warned that it was pushing Russia and the West toward a Cold War-style confrontation
  • NATO countries are rushing to bolster their defenses on the continent in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine

WASHINGTON: Chancellor Olaf Scholz has hailed a decision from the United States to periodically station long-range missiles in Germany as a step to increase deterrence against Russia.
Washington’s move marks a return of US cruise missiles to Germany after a 20-year absence, and has sparked criticism even among members of Scholz’s Social Democrats.
The Kremlin also said the decision to station US missiles in Germany was pushing Russia and the West toward a Cold War-style confrontation.
Defending the decision, Scholz told reporters at a NATO summit in Washington it is “something of deterrence and it’s securing peace, and it is a necessary and important decision at the right time.”
The United States on Wednesday said the “episodic deployments” of long-range missiles to Germany will begin in 2026.
The White House said it would eventually look to permanently station them in Germany, and the missiles would “have significantly longer range” than current US systems in Europe.
“Exercising these advanced capabilities will demonstrate the United States’ commitment to NATO and its contributions to European integrated deterrence,” it said in a joint statement with the German government.
The missile decision signalled “steady steps toward the Cold War,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a state TV reporter.
“All the attributes of the Cold War with the direct confrontation are returning,” Peskov said.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk the deployment decision addressed a “very serious gap” in the country’s capabilities.
The German army does not have long-range missiles that launch from the ground, only cruise missiles that can be fired by aircraft.
But the announcement sparked an outcry in Germany, where the deployment of US missiles brings back painful memories of the Cold War.
Ralf Stegner, an MP for Scholz’s Social Democrats, said the missile decision could signal the start of a new “arms race.”
“This will not make the world safer. On the contrary, we are entering a spiral in which the world is becoming increasingly dangerous,” warned Stegner.
Sahra Wagenknecht, a prominent far-left figure in Germany, told the Spiegel weekly that US missile deployment “increases the danger that Germany itself will become a theater of war.”
The 1980s deployment of US Pershing ballistic missiles in West Germany at the height of the Cold War prompted widespread demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands coming out in pacifist protest.
US missiles continued to be stationed through the reunification of Germany and into the 1990s.
Following the end of the Cold War, the US significantly reduced the numbers of missiles stationed in Europe as the threat from Moscow receded.
But NATO countries — spearheaded by the US — are rushing to bolster their defenses on the continent in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
 


Musk donates to group working to elect Trump, Bloomberg reports

Updated 21 min 17 sec ago
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Musk donates to group working to elect Trump, Bloomberg reports

WASHINGTON, July 12 : Billionaire Elon Musk, who has been ramping up criticism of US President Joe Biden, has donated to a political group working to elect rival presidential candidate Donald Trump, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing sources.
The report did not indicate how much Musk donated but added it was “a sizable amount” given to a group called America PAC.
Bloomberg reported that the PAC — a group that can receive unlimited contributions for political activity — is next required to disclose its list of donors on July 15.
In March, Trump, a former US President who is expected to be formally nominated next week as the Republican Party’s candidate for the Nov. 5 election, met with Musk and other wealthy donors.
In response to reports of the meeting, South Africa-born Musk posted on X: “Just to be super clear, I am not donating money to either candidate for US President.” In May, he also denied media reports that there had been talks over a potential advisory role for him in any Trump presidency.
Musk, the world’s richest person who runs electric car maker Tesla, rocket maker SpaceX, social media company X and other companies, did not respond to Reuters’ request for comments.
Musk in recent years has more fully embraced the Republican Party, which has weighed on the reputation and sales of Tesla, the biggest source of his wealth.
Trump last month reiterated his pledge to immediately abandon the Biden administration’s “mandate” to support the electric vehicle industry. But he added: “I’m a big fan of electric cars. I’m a fan of Elon.”
“He does an incredible job with Tesla.”
Musk said they had “some conversations” and Trump is a “huge fan of the Cybertrucks,” referring to Tesla’s electric pickup trucks.
While he has publicly criticized Biden’s policies on immigration and electric vehicles and even his age, Musk has not made any formal endorsement in November’s contest and Trump has said he did not know if he has Musk’s support.
He has also endorsed antisemitic comments on X, though Musk has denied being antisemitic.
Musk’s views have hurt his standing among some consumers, according to a CivicScience survey shown exclusively to Reuters.


Terrorism and organized crime rampant in Sahel and spilling into West Africa coastal states, UN says

Updated 37 min 28 sec ago
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Terrorism and organized crime rampant in Sahel and spilling into West Africa coastal states, UN says

  • Guterres said regional insecurity “continues to impact negatively on the humanitarian and human rights situation”

UNITED NATIONS: Terrorism and organized crime by violent extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh are a “pervasive threat” in Africa’s volatile Sahel region and are spilling over to West Africa’s coastal countries, the top UN envoy for the area warned Friday.
Leonardo Simão, the UN special representative for the Sahel and West Africa, said the focus on combating terrorism has had limited effect in stopping rampant illegal trafficking in the Sahel and the effort needs more police.
“It’s drugs, it’s weapons, it’s human beings, it’s mineral resources, and even food,” Simão said after briefing the UN Security Council.
According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ new report on the Sahel and West Africa, hundreds of people have been killed in the first half of 2024 alone in terrorist attacks, many of them civilians..
The vast majority of deaths occurred in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, whose ruling military juntas in March announced a joint security force to fight terrorism, though the force has yet to begin operations. The three countries are increasingly cutting ties with the US military and allying with Russia on its security challenges.
Last week, the three juntas doubled down on their decision to leave the Economic Community of West African States, the nearly 50-year-old regional bloc known as ECOWAS, following the creation of their own security partnership, the Alliance of Sahel States, in September.
Simão did not comment on the countries’ international alliances, but said their withdrawals from ECOWAS will be “harmful to both sides.” He lauded ECOWAS for taking a’ “vigorous approach” to engaging with Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and urged the countries to maintain regional unity.
He called for the UN’s continued support of the Accra Initiative, a military platform involving Burkina Faso and nearby coastal countries to contain the spread of extremism in the Sahel. He also said the Security Council should pursue financing regionally led police operations.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed support for ECOWAS and UN efforts in West Africa and the Sahel and said the Security Council “must also step up.”
Thomas-Greenfield urged increased funding and the appointment of a UN resident coordinator in the region, saying a UN presence is critical to support UN development efforts “as well as ensuring the delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance.”
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, countered that international security efforts amount to an “attempt to continue imposing new colonial models” on Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. She accused Western donors of limiting assistance for “political reasons.”
“Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are conducting an uncompromising and coordinated fight against terrorist groups and they are achieving success and stabilizing their territories,” Evstigneeva said.
The region’s deadliest terrorist attacks this year took place in Burkina Faso, where the militant terrorist groups Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam wal-Muslimin, which has ties to Al-Qaeda, and the Daesh claim “extensive swaths” of territory, Guterres said in the report. In February alone, major terrorist attacks killed 301 people, including a single assault that claimed 170 lives.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, there were 361 conflict-related deaths in Niger during the first three months of 2024, a significant increase from 250 over the same period last year.
Guterres encouraged the “accelerated implementation” of remaining security agreements, including recent plans for a counterterrorism center in Nigeria and the deployment of an ECOWAS standby force to help eradicate terrorism.
The military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have ended long-standing foreign military partnerships in recent years.
In 2022, France withdrew its troops from Mali over tensions with the junta, followed by a military withdrawal from Niger at the government’s request..
The UN ended its 10-year peacekeeping mission in Mali in December 2023 at the junta’s insistence. It had been the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission, with more than 300 personnel killed.
The US military is set to conclude its withdrawal from Niger, also at the junta’s request, by Sept. 15.
Guterres said regional insecurity “continues to impact negatively on the humanitarian and human rights situation.”
The report said 25.8 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria need humanitarian assistance this year. Those four countries had more than 6.2 million people internally displaced and 630,000 refugees in April. In addition, 32.9 million people faced food insecurity.
Guterres said humanitarian agencies lack adequate funding, having received only 13 percent of the $3.2 billion needed for 2024. “Without additional funding, millions of vulnerable people will be left without vital support,” he said in the report.

 


Judge ends Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy case, says he flouted the process with his lack of transparency

Updated 47 min 6 sec ago
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Judge ends Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy case, says he flouted the process with his lack of transparency

NEW YORK: A judge threw out Rudy Giuliani ‘s bankruptcy case on Friday, slamming the former New York City mayor as a “recalcitrant debtor” who thumbed his nose at the process while seeking to shield himself from a $148 million defamation judgment and other debts.
US Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane criticized Giuliani for repeated “uncooperative conduct,” self-dealing, and a lack of transparency. The judge cited failures to comply with court orders, failure to disclose sources of income, and his apparent unwillingness to hire an accountant to go over his books.
“Such a failure is a clear red flag,” Lane wrote.
Dismissing the case ends his pursuit of bankruptcy protection, but it doesn’t absolve him of his debts. His creditors can now pursue other legal remedies to recoup at least some of the money they’re owed, such as getting a court order to seize his apartments and other assets.
Giuliani is now free to also pursue an appeal of the defamation verdict, which arose from his efforts to overturn Republican Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss.
Lane indicated at a hearing Wednesday that he would probably dismiss the case. Giuliani’s lawyer had floated other options to keep the case alive, but agreed ultimately that dismissing it was the best way forward. The dismissal includes a 12-month ban on Giuliani filing again for bankruptcy protection.
“Transparency into Mr. Giuliani’s finances has proven to be an elusive goal,” Lane wrote, and he “sees no evidence that this will change.”
Among his concerns, the judge said, were that Giuliani funneled his income — including at least $15,000 a month from his now-canceled talk radio show — into companies he owned; never reported any income from those entities; failed to disclose that he had started promoting his own “Rudy Coffee” brand; and was late to disclose a contract he has to write a book.
Giuliani’s spokesperson Ted Goodman — drawing a parallel to what he deemed the “grossly unfair” defamation case — said Friday that the bankruptcy matter had been “burdened with many of the same voluminous and overly broad discovery requests and other actions.” Among them, he claimed, were leaks “intended to harm the mayor and destroy his businesses.”
Goodman ascribed political motives to Giuliani’s legal troubles, stating without evidence that they were meant to punish him for investigating President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and “to deter anyone else from asking questions or getting to the truth.” Nevertheless, he said, they’re confident “our system of justice with be restored and the mayor will be totally vindicated.”
Giuliani, a longtime Trump ally, filed for bankruptcy last December just days after the eye-popping damages award to former Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss. The bankruptcy filing froze collection of the debt.
A lawyer for Freeman and Moss accused Giuliani at Wednesday’s hearing of using bankruptcy as a “bad-faith litigation tactic” and a “pause button on his woes,” and urged Lane to dismiss it so they could pursue the damages they were awarded.
“Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss have already waited too long for justice,” the women’s lawyer, Rachel Strickland, said Friday. “We are pleased the court saw through Mr. Giuliani’s games and put a stop to his abuse of the bankruptcy process. We will begin enforcing our judgment against him ASAP.”
The other people and entities to whom Giuliani owes money wanted to keep the bankruptcy case going with a court-appointed trustee taking control of Giuliani’s assets.
Earlier this month, Giuliani requested the case be converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation — in which an appointed trustee would sell off assets to help pay creditors.
Giuliani’s lawyer Gary Fischoff reconsidered that idea at Wednesday’s hearing and pushed to dismiss the case instead, noting that administrative fees related to liquidation would “consume if not 100 percent, a substantial portion of the assets.”
Freeman and Moss can now bring their effort to collect on the award back to the court in Washington, D.C., where they won their lawsuit. The women said Giuliani’s targeting of them after Trump narrowly lost Georgia to Biden led to death threats that made them fear for their lives.
The bankruptcy is one of a host of legal woes consuming the 80-year-old Giuliani, the ex-federal prosecutor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate who was once heralded as “America’s Mayor” for his calm and steady leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Last week, he was disbarred as an attorney in New York after a court found he repeatedly made false statements about Trump’s 2020 election loss. He is also facing the possibility of losing his law license in Washington after a board in May recommended that he be disbarred.
In Georgia and Arizona, Giuliani is facing criminal charges over his role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
When he filed for bankruptcy, Giuliani listed nearly $153 million in existing or potential debts, including almost $1 million in state and federal tax liabilities, money he owes lawyers, and many millions of dollars in potential judgments in lawsuits against him. He estimated he had assets worth $1 million to $10 million.
In his most recent financial filings in the bankruptcy case, he said he had about $94,000 cash in hand at the end of May while his company, Giuliani Communications, had about $237,000 in the bank. A main source of income for Giuliani over the past two years has been a retirement account with a balance of just over $1 million in May, down from nearly $2.5 million in 2022 after his withdrawals, the filings say.
In May, he spent nearly $33,000 including nearly $28,000 for condo and co-op costs for his Florida and New York City homes. He also spent about $850 on food, $390 on cleaning services, $230 on medicine, $200 on laundry and $190 on vehicles.


US Navy pilots come home after months of shooting down Houthi missiles and drones

Updated 13 July 2024
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US Navy pilots come home after months of shooting down Houthi missiles and drones

  • Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain in what they say is a campaign to support the militant group Hamas in its war the Gaza against Israel

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia: US Navy fighter pilots came home to Virginia feeling relieved Friday after months of shooting down Houthi-launched missiles and drones off Yemen’s coast in the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II.
F/A-18 Super Hornets swooped over waiting families in a low formation before landing at their base in Virginia Beach. Dressed in green flight suits, the aviators embraced women in summer dresses and kids carrying American flags. Some handed red roses to their wives and daughters.
“We’re going to go sit down on the couch, and we’re going to try and make up for nine months of lost time,” Cmdr. Jaime Moreno said while hugging his two young daughters, ages 2 and 4, and kissing his wife Lynn.
Clearing the emotion from his voice, Moreno said he couldn’t be prouder of his team and “everything that the last nine months have entailed.”
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group, which includes three other warships, was protecting merchant vessels and allied warships under fire in a vital Red Sea corridor that leads to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain in what they say is a campaign to support the militant group Hamas in its war the Gaza against Israel, though they frequently have targeted ships with no clear links to Israel or its supporters, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.
The US and its allies have been fighting back: One round of fire in January saw F/A-18s from the Eisenhower and other ships shoot down 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.
US Navy sailors have seen incoming Houthi-launched missiles seconds before they are destroyed by their ship’s defensive systems. Officials in the Pentagon have been talking about how to care for the sailors when they return home, including counseling and treatment for possible post-traumatic stress.
Cmdr. Benjamin Orloff, a Navy pilot, told reporters in Virginia Beach on Friday that most of the sailors, including him, weren’t used to being fired on given the nation’s previous military engagements in recent decades.
“It was incredibly different,” Orloff said. “And I’ll be honest, it was a little traumatizing for the group. It’s something that we don’t think about a lot until you’re presented with it.”
But at the same time, Orloff said sailors responded with grit and resilience.
“What’s impressive is how all those sailors turned right around — — and given the threat, given that stress — — continued to do their jobs beyond reproach,” Orloff said, adding that it was “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
The carrier strike group had left Virginia in mid-October. Its deployment was extended twice because of the importance of having a powerful carrier strike group, which can launch fighter jets at a moment’s notice, in the volatile region.
The months of fighting and extensions placed extra stress on roughly 7,000 sailors and their families.
Caitlyn Jeronimus, whose husband Keith is a Navy lieutenant commander and pilot, said she initially thought this deployment would be relatively easy, involving some exercises with other NATO countries. But then Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and plans changed.
“It was going to be, if you could call it, a fun deployment where he’s going to get lots of ports to visit,” Jeronimus said.
She said the Eisenhower’s plans continued to change, which was exacerbated by the knowledge that there were “people who want to harm the ship.”
Jeronimus leaned on counselors provided by the Navy.
Her two children, aged 5 and 8, were old enough to understand “that daddy has been gone for a long time,” she said. “It was stressful.”