Sumatran fires a concern
The country was yesterday shrouded with haze from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra causing “unhealthy” levels of pollution in six areas. Haze is an annual problem during the monsoon season from May to September as winds blow the smoke across the Malacca Strait. Environment Department Director General Halimah Hassan said they had detected 46 hotspots in Sumatra via satellite. The Air Pollutant Index showed unhealthy levels of between 101 and 129 in six areas yesterday morning, including two places in Malacca State along with Port Dickson and the country’s largest port, Port Klang. In Kuala Lumpur, the skies were hazy with air pollution readings at 92, just below the unhealthy threshold. Halimah in a statement yesterday attributed the haze to the westerly monsoon season. Haze, mostly caused by fires in Indonesia, builds up during the dry season, affecting tourism and contributing to health problems across the region.
Dutch couple go missing
A Dutch couple living in the country have disappeared, police said on Saturday, with press reports saying they had been kidnapped. Press reports said the couple, who have not been named, had not been seen for three days, had been abducted. Daily al-Yemen al-Youm reported that “unknown men kidnapped” the couple, without giving details. Western sources said the pair were teaching at the Lebanese International University in Sana’a, and that the wife was also a journalist working for a radio station in the Netherlands. Another source close to the couple spoke of last seeing the woman three days ago, and saying they had probably been kidnapped.
Passengers still missing
Navy divers battled strong ocean currents yesterday in a desperate hunt for seven missing passengers of a ferry that sank with dozens onboard. The Lady of Mount Carmel mysteriously went down in calm weather on Friday about 2km from Burias Island, killing two women passengers. Officials said 61 of the 70 people aboard the vessel had been rescued. Hopes of finding the missing passengers were fading fast as strong currents thwarted attempts by the navy divers to reach the seabed, navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gerald Fabic told reporters. He said there was a slim chance that the seven missing had drifted away to nearby islands. However, he added there was also a probability that they were trapped inside the sunken vessel. Fabic said navy and coastguard vessels would continue searching with the help of local fishermen until ordered to terminate the search.
Mandela improving: family
Former president Nelson Mandela’s health has improved, his grandson said on Saturday as the 94-year-old spent his eighth day in hospital recovering from a lung infection. Mandla Mandela said that when he left his grandfather in Pretoria, before heading to Qunu for a family memorial, “we saw the improvement in his health.” “The old man is not only ours, but he is for the people of South Africa, Africa and the whole world,” he said at the funeral of elderly cousin, Florence Nondlela Mandela, in the former president’s home village in Eastern Cape. Saturday’s update was the first since Thursday, when President Jacob Zuma said that Mandela was continuing to improve but remains in serious condition.
Quake strikes central state
A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck the center of the country early yesterday, but no casualties or major damage was reported, officials said. The quake struck just after midnight local time, east of the city of Huitzuco in Guerrero state, at a depth of about 50km, according to the National Seismological Service and the US Geological Survey. Although the quake was felt strongly in the capital, “in the preliminary report, Mexico City was not damaged,” Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera wrote on his Twitter feed. However, the power was out in some areas of the city, a local radio station reported, and the strong tremors sparked panic in some restaurants and bars, as customers hastily evacuated.
Gun control law signed
President Nicolas Maduro signed a gun control bill into law on Friday in a bid to rein in the country’s runaway violent crime. “I hereby sign into law this gun control law, for peace in our nation,” Maduro said in an address in Vargas state. The bill will allow sentences of up to 20 years in prison for any civilian convicted of illegally carrying or selling a firearm. It also restricts the sale of ammunition to civilians and bans weapons from being shown in public places. “Any arm that is confiscated will be destroyed immediately ... the sales of weapons and ammunition also ends,” National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said. There are some exceptions: People are allowed to use weapons to protect their property and themselves when in danger, and security personnel can use them when transporting valuable items. In the first quarter of this year, there were 3,400 murders. That followed another year of bloodletting that saw about 16,000 homicides nationwide last year, according to government data. There were 15 million firearms — legal and illegal — in a country of 29 million in 2009.
Capriles complains to pope
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles told Pope Francis on Saturday that the government was violating basic democratic and human rights, just two days before President Nicolas Maduro visits the Vatican. “We Venezuelans are subject to repeated human rights violations, without the government bodies in charge of guaranteeing and protecting those rights taking action, and quite often they are actually parties to the abuses,” Capriles said in a letter dated Wednesday. Maduro was proclaimed the winner of the April 14 presidential elections by a 1.5 percent margin, but Capriles has refused to concede, saying the elections were stolen. An audit of the results found no flaws in the snap vote to replace former president Hugo Chavez, the head of the National Electoral Commission reported on Tuesday.
Four men stabbed at mosque
Four men, including a police officer, were in hospital yesterday after being stabbed during an attack at a mosque in Birmingham, police said. Officers were called out to a mosque in the city’s Ward End area late on Saturday after reports that three men had been stabbed, a spokesman for West Midlands Police said. While a suspect was being arrested one of the officers was also stabbed, the spokesman added. All four of the victims were in a stable condition in hospital, he said. Police are holding a 32-year-old man on suspicion of attempted murder.