US first lady touts freedom
US first lady Michelle Obama told an audience of college students in Beijing yesterday that open access to information — especially online — is a universal right. However, she stopped short of calling on China to offer its citizens greater freedoms during a visit in which she is expected to steer clear of more complicated political issues, but rather try to build goodwill through soft diplomacy. “It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” Obama said told an audience of about 200 US and Chinese students at Peking University. “My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” she said.
Five killed in aircraft crash
A light aircraft used for skydiving crashed in an airfield in the east of the country yesterday and burst into flames, killing all five people on board, police said. The plane veered left shortly after taking off from the Caboolture airstrip, 50km north of Brisbane, before plunging to the ground. “We have a pilot and there were four skydivers on board and they were the only five people that were on board,” Queensland police superintendent Michael Brady told Sky News. Brady said a male pilot, two skydiving instructors and two skydivers including a woman were on board, but could not confirm reports that their family members were watching as the plane plummeted to the ground.
Suspected extremists held
Police arrested three suspected lslamic extremists after intercepting a bomb shipment that authorities said was intended to attack brothels. Among those arrested last week was Ambo Intang, who was sought for his alleged involvement in the 2012 killings of two policemen in the Central Sulawesi District of Poso, national police spokesman Major General Ronny Sompie said. An antiterrorism squad had earlier detained two other suspects. One of them was identified as Bambang Aribowo, who was arrested upon arrival at Jakarta’s airport. Sompie said police intercepted a shipment containing two homemade bombs that was sent from the East Java town of Trenggalek to Makassar. Police said the group was led by the nation’s most wanted terrorist suspect, Abu Wardah Santoso. He is sought in connection with several attacks on Java Island and Poso in Central Sulawesi Province and faces charges of running a terrorist training camp.
Smuggling eyed in crash
A collision involving two trucks and two passenger buses on a coastal highway in Balochistan Province, near Gadani, yesterday killed 35 people and injured 20 passengers, police said. A bus bound for the port city of Karachi first collided head-on with a truck coming from the opposite direction, said Ahmed Nawaz, the area’s police chief. Nawaz said the second bus and truck then piled up onto the two vehicles and all caught fire, reportedly because the buses were also smuggling Iranian gasoline and diesel-filled canisters on board. He said 25 people were reported to have died at the scene, while 30 injured victims were taken out of the destroyed and burned buses. Most of the victims, including women and children, were severely burned and were transported to Karachi.
Rebel-army clashes kill 12
Twelve people were killed yesterday in clashes between government forces and Shiite rebels on the outskirts of Amran, a local official and tribal sources said. The rebels, known as Huthis or Ansarullah, had travelled to Amran to take part in a demonstration, but shooting erupted when they insisted on crossing a checkpoint to the northern entrance to the city with their weapons, an official said. Eight rebels were among the dead, as well as two soldiers and two civilians, the sources said. A security official in Sana’a said orders have been given to prevent Huthis from entering Amran, as the army sent reinforcements. The military also set up more checkpoints around the city as rebels tried to enter from the east and west, sources said. Last week, Huthis armed with rifles paraded through Amran alongside vehicles fitted with rocket launchers, demanding the sacking of the “corrupt government.”
Syriac Orthodox leader dies
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas has died at the age of 80. State news agency SANA said the leader of one of world’s oldest Christian sects was admitted into a German hospital on Feb. 20 and passed away on Friday after a long illness. Iwas’ Syriac Orthodox Church was founded in 452 after a schism with the bulk of the world’s Christians and has more than 4 million members across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, with significant communities in Germany, Sweden and in the US. Iwas was born in Mosul, Iraq, and enthroned as patriarch in 1980 at St George’s Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus, where he conducted services in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic. Church officials said his remains will be brought to Lebanon before being taken to Syria for burial.
Israel army raid turns deadly
Israeli troops yesterday killed three Palestinians in an early-morning raid at the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that sparked clashes with protesters, Palestinian officials said. Medical and security sources said two of the fatalities were militants and the third a civilian. They said 14 Palestinians were wounded, with two reportedly in critical condition. The military confirmed the incident, but said four Palestinians died. It said the raid was aimed at arresting Hamza Abu el-Heija, a Hamas operative wanted for links to shootings and bombings against Israelis. Palestinians officials said the Israeli military ringed a house in the camp overnight and ordered el-Heija outside. When he refused, soldiers stormed the house and a shootout ensued, the officials said. “Other gunmen gathered around the house” to help el-Heija, including Mohammad Abu Zena, 19, an Islamic militant who was killed along with el-Heija, the medical and security sources said. The army said a “violent riot” then broke out, during which three Palestinians were killed.
Troops fight oil port rebels
Troops fought with rebels occupying oil ports yesterday after fighters attacked an army base where military reinforcements were preparing an offensive to break the blockade, residents said. Anti-aircraft gunfire and explosions were heard late at night and again after dawn in Ajdabiya, the hometown of rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran. The central government gave Jathran a two-week deadline on March 12 to end a blockade of three oil ports or face a military attack. Yesterday, troops loyal to Jathran attacked an army camp which was been reinforced after Tripoli issued its threat, local residents said.
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,
The dramatic quietening of towns and cities during lockdown in Britain has changed the way the Earth moves beneath our feet, scientists said. Seismologists at the British Geological Survey (BGS) have found that their sensors are twitching less now that human activity has been curtailed, leading to a drop in the anthropogenic din that vibrates through the planet. The fall in the human hum that rings around the world means that, in theory at least, the scientists should be able to detect smaller earthquakes in the UK, and more distant tremors in Europe and in countries further afield than their equipment usually