Wildfire blame game begins
Grief and shock over the nation’s deadliest wildfires were clouded yesterday by a bitter debate over who was to blame, as the opposition rejected the government’s suggestion that the blazes were started deliberately. Alternate Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas on Thursday said there were “serious” signs that the worst of the fires, which killed scores this week east of Athens, were the result of arson. Forensics experts pressed ahead with the difficult task of identifying the bodies of the 82 people known to have perished in the catastrophe.Amid public anger over the government’s handling of the aftermath, Toskas told reporters that “a serious piece of information has led to us opening an investigation” into possible “criminal acts.” Officials citing information from satellite maps have said that 13 fires broke out at the same time on Monday across the region of Attica, which includes Athens. Experts have said that poor urban planning contributed to what were Europe’s worst wildfires this century.
Air China makes bomb error
An Air China flight to Beijing on Thursday returned to Paris after an airline employee misunderstood a passenger who was calling on the phone and thought he was reporting a bomb on the plane, Paris airport police said. Xinhua news agency initially reported that the plane turned back because of “suspected terrorist information.” Not so, said an official with the airport police prefecture, the state body that oversees security at the city’s airports. The passenger, speaking in English, called Air China to say he was stuck behind police lines that were set up at Charles de Gaulle Airport’s Terminal 1 while officers investigated an abandoned package. “The company thought it was a bomb alert” for the plane, the official said. “It was an error of comprehension.” The official did not identify the passenger or the airline employee. He was not authorized to speak publicly. Flight CA876 returned to Charles de Gaulle and was separated from other aircraft for an inspection. It was scheduled to take off again at 9pm, the official said. The plane had been in the air nearly 40 minutes before heading back, the local airport authority said.
NAFTA could be back on
The US, Canada and Mexico could conclude talks to remake the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as soon as next month, the lead US trade negotiator said on Thursday. The remarks follow Wednesday’s joint declaration of a pause in trade hostilities between the country and the EU, raising the possibility of closing two fronts in President Donald Trump’s global trade offensive. The three North American trading partners could reach “some kind of conclusion during the course of August,” Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee. He said “that’s not an unreasonable time frame if everybody wants to get it done,” and would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign the new deal before he leaves office on Dec. 1. “That’s what our hope is,” Lighthizer said. Lighthizer suggested he still favored a so-called sunset clause in US trade agreements, requiring parties to renew them every five years. US insistence on the sunset provision helped derail the NAFTA talks earlier this year after both Canadian and Mexican officials rejected it outright.
Chinese plane makes flyover
The nation summoned a Chinese embassy official yesterday to lodge a complaint over a Chinese military aircraft flying in the nation’s air defense territory, the third such incident this year, the Ministry of National Defense said. South Korea scrambled fighter jets to intercept the plane when it entered the nation’s Air Defense Identification Zone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The aircraft spent more than four hours flying near a submerged rock in the area controlled by Seoul, but claimed by Beijing, it added. There was no immediate comment from China. The ministry said it called in Chinese embassy defense attache Du Nongyi (杜農一) and “sternly” urged China to take steps to prevent the incident from recurring.
Typhoon nears flooded areas
Outlying islands were pelted by intense rain yesterday, as a powerful typhoon bore down, threatening the main islands with heavy rain this weekend and putting areas already ravaged by deadly floods at risk again. Typhoon Jongdari — meaning “skylark” in Korean — is to strengthen to a Category 4 typhoon as it moves northwest, but is to be off peak strength as it draws closest to Honshu late today or early tomorrow. While the heaviest rains are likely to hit the region around Tokyo, with 300mm to 500mm possible in the 24 hours to tomorrow morning, the storm could also pass right over the western region lashed by floods earlier this month. Heavy rains and winds were already lashing the Ogasawara Islands, about 1,000km south of Tokyo, by yesterday afternoon as the storm churned toward Japan on an unusual northwest course. A raft of summer festivals were canceled or postponed in the Tokyo area, including the famed Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival scheduled for tonight.
Project maps massacres
Thousands of Aborigines are estimated to have been murdered in 500 massacres across Australia from European settlement in 1788 until the mid-20th century, researchers said yesterday. Historians from the University of Newcastle said they had drawn on settler diaries, contemporary newspaper reports, evidence from Aboriginal groups, and state and federal archives to attempt to catalogue the violence for the first time. “To date we have identified about 250 massacre sites in colonial Australia and we estimate there will be about 500 when the project is finished,” lead researcher Lyndall Ryan said. Ryan estimates the death toll from the 250 massacres already identified at about 6,200 people, including fewer than 100 Europeans. It defines a “massacre” as an incident in which at least six people were killed. The research is expected to be completed next year.
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
Indonesian officials are forcing people who break social distancing rules to recite Koran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging novel coronavirus infections. The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying about 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing masks in public. However, provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the coronavirus. Police in western Bengkulu Province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear