News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

September 16, 2008

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas has begun what is being described as the biggest search and rescue effort in its history following Hurricane Ike.

At least 2,000 people have been rescued but many thousands more are believed to have ignored the mandatory order to evacuate before Saturday’s storm.

The death toll rose to 30 as Ike swept on from Texas into the mid-US, with heavy rain causing flooding.

Millions of people are without power and Houston is under a week-long curfew as work continues to restore services.

While many schools remained shut, there were signs of a return to normality on Monday, as the city’s two airports resumed limited services and some shops and restaurants opened for business.

Five people died in Galveston Bay, an island city south-east of Houston which bore the brunt of the storm as Ike swept ashore on Saturday, bringing 13ft (4m) waves and 110mph (175km/h) winds.

‘Stay away’

Rescuers feared the toll could rise as they searched areas awash with sewage for those who did not leave before the hurricane hit.

As many as 140,000 people – some 10,000 in Galveston alone – failed to heed the order to evacuate.

Across Texas, 50 helicopters, 1,500 federal, state and local search teams were looking for stranded survivors, and a US navy ship carrying engineers was heading to Galveston to help with rebuilding operations.

We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal
US President George W Bush

Nearly 40,000 evacuees were being housed in 250 shelters across Texas – some with little money and no idea how long they would have to stay.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas urged residents to stay away until it was safe to return to their homes.

“There’s nothing to come here for,” she said. “Please leave.”

Warning that residents of Texas and Louisiana were in for “tough times”, David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said some people would “be out of their homes for not only weeks, but months”.

Fema has said it will deliver 7.5m meals as well as 5m gallons (20m litres) of water over the next few days.

President George W Bush, who is due to survey the damage on Tuesday, told those affected by the storm: “We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal”.

Although Ike weakened to a tropical depression as it headed beyond Texas, the storm’s US death-toll rose to 30 as torrential rain caused severe flooding and power outages in parts of Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Ike killed more than 80 people when it tore through the Caribbean late last week.


Have you been affected by Hurricane Ike? Send us your comments and experiences

September 12, 2008

Surrender by ‘uranium theft’ man

Surrender by ‘uranium theft’ man

Photo by Anirban Roy

Local objections have stopped mining from officially starting

A tribal man wanted in connection with the smuggling of uranium ore has surrendered to the police in India’s north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

Earlier this week, police arrested five people and recovered a packet of about 1kg of unprocessed uranium from them.

It is not clear how much ore the group had, or what it planned to do with it.

The arrests are at an embarrassing time for India, just days after the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended a ban on civilian nuclear trade with the country.

Indian officials had worked hard to persuade members of the group, which governs global trade in nuclear components, that its nuclear industry was in safe hands.

Uranium is the basic fuel for nuclear weapons, but it has to go through complex processes before it is sufficiently enriched for use.

‘Stolen’

John Khongmin gave himself up to the police in the West Khasi Hills district late on Wednesday after police circulated a look-out notice for him.

Mr Khongmin’s father is an employee of the government-run Atomic Minerals Division.

The Domiosiat mining site. Picture by Anirban Roy

Children play at Domiosiat – prized by experts for the quality of its ore

“We are trying to find out whether the group has stolen more and where were they trying to sell it,” district police official M Khakrang said.

Police say they are not sure whether the men are part of an organized global enterprise, or simply some amateurs, trying to make some quick money.

The seizure was made in the village of Mairang on Monday when police detained four people, including a village headman, for stealing a quantity of uranium.

A fifth man surrendered on Tuesday after the police carried out a search of the area.

Earlier in May too, police arrested five people for stealing uranium ore.

Others have been arrested in the past for trying to smuggle uranium out of the state.

“But we don’t know yet whether this is an organized racket. It could well be and we may have not yet found the kingpins,” Mr Khakrang said.

Proposed mines

Early in the 1990s, India’s Atomic Minerals Division discovered huge deposits of uranium at Domiosiat and Wakkhaji in the West Khasi Hills.

The Indian government announced in January it wanted to open cast mine 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore annually in the area.

But mining has been unable to start so far because of objections from local tribespeople who fear radiation contamination.

Officials say the proposed mines contain 16% of India’s known uranium deposits.

India is desperate for enriched uranium to boost its nuclear power generation.

It recently signed a controversial accord with the US under which it will receive civilian nuclear fuel and technology. The deal now awaits approval from the US Congress.

September 10, 2008

Oil rises on Opec production curb

Oil rises on Opec production curb

Chakib Khelil (10 September 2008)

Mr Khelil said Opec would re-assess the situation at the end of the year

Oil prices have risen to $104 a barrel in Asian trade, reversing earlier losses, after OPEC agreed to return to its late 2007 production levels.

After talks in Vienna, Opec president Chakib Khelil said the measures to curb over-production amounted to a cut of 520,000 barrels a day within 40 days.

The October US light crude future was up about $1 to $104.20 a barrel after earlier tumbling to near $102.

Prices have sunk from a record of more than $147 a barrel seen in July.

On Tuesday Brent crude had dropped beneath $100 a barrel for the first time since April, and crude prices remain close to $100, below which Goldman Sachs said earlier this week could signal a global recession.

The fall from the record prices in July has helped the US dollar, which hit an 13-month high against the euro on Tuesday.

Supply question

The price has since fallen by nearly 30% as a global economic slowdown has reduced demand for oil.

Supply has also been increased in recent months by some Opec members – principally Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has suspended its membership of Opec.

Actions [to curb output] will be taken by members as soon as they can
Chakib Khelil, Algerian oil minister

“The conference regretfully accepted the wish of Indonesia to suspend its full membership in the organisation and recorded its hope the country would be in a position to rejoin the organisation in the not too distant future,” Opec said in a statement.

After the late-night talks in Vienna, the group announced it had decided to “strictly” comply to the production ceilings agreed in September last year, which amount to 28.8m barrels a day excluding Indonesia and Iraq.

It linked the falling price of oil to slowing economic growth, a stronger US dollar, easing geo-political tensions and greater supply.

“All the foregoing indicates a shift in market sentiment causing downside risks to the global oil market outlook,” a statement said.

Output curbs

The effect of the measures will be a cut of about 520,000 barrels a day, according to Algerian Oil Minister Chakib Khelil, who chaired the meeting.

“Actions [to curb output] will be taken by members as soon as they can, that means in the next 40 days,” he said.

Opec members will re-assess the situation when the meet again at the end of the year.

The move is a compromise meant to avoid new turmoil in the oil markets, but it also reflects Opec’s attempts to stop the recent falls in global prices.

September 9, 2008

N Korea to mark 60th anniversary

N Korea to mark 60th anniversary

A Korean Central News Agency photo showing high-ranking North Korean officials and foreign guests at a meeting on the eve of the anniversary

A special meeting was held on the eve of the anniversary

North Korea is planning to celebrate its 60th anniversary with a military parade in the capital, Pyongyang.

Reports say the parade will be the largest the North has ever staged, with lots of military hardware on display.

Reclusive leader Kim Jong-il is expected to attend, and the parade will be watched closely because of speculation about his health.

The anniversary comes amid an impasse in international efforts to urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Health concerns

On Monday, North Korea’s state-run television channel KRT showed footage of the North’s cabinet holding a large indoor gathering to mark the anniversary.

The cabinet released a statement, picked up by monitors in Seoul, saying that North Korea had a powerful army that would “mercilessly punish invaders”.

According to South Korean media, the main parade on Tuesday will be the largest ever staged by its northern neighbor.

“The North probably wants to boost the image of its military might in order to cement unity within the country and secure a better position in the denuclearize negotiations,” a South Korean government source told JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il with soldiers, August 2006

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is notoriously reclusive

Military experts usually watch these parades to see if North Korea will unveil any new weapons systems.

But this time foreign observers will be particularly keen to note whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-il makes an appearance.

The future direction of North Korea is tightly linked to the personality of the country’s reclusive leader.

Mr Kim has not been seen in public since early last month, giving rise to speculation he could be seriously unwell.

He has been known to disappear from public view for extended periods before, and has always returned eventually, but this time the rumours of ill health have been given added impetus by news that a team of Chinese doctors was recently summoned to examine him.

Food shortages

The celebrations are taking place amid rising tensions between Pyongyang and the international community.

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and diplomatic concessions, but the progress of the deal has been far from smooth.

After a long delay, Pyongyang handed over details of its nuclear facilities in June 2008.

In return, it expected the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which the US has yet to do, so the North now appears to be starting to reassemble its main nuclear plant.

Meanwhile the World Food Program estimates that North Korea is suffering from a serious food shortage.

The North has relied on foreign assistance to help feed its 23 million people since its state-controlled economy collapsed in the mid-1990s.


Are you marking this anniversary? Are you in Pyongyang? What is happening in your area? Tell us your experience

September 8, 2008

Gallagher hurt after stage attack

Gallagher hurt after stage attack

Oasis star Noel Gallagher was admitted to hospital after being pushed over during the band’s set at the V Festival in Toronto, Canada on Sunday.

According to the band’s website, the star “fell heavily onto his monitor speakers”. He may have fractured his rib and sustained ligament damage.

The 40-year-old was playing guitar during a performance of Morning Glory when a stage invader pushed him over.

Oasis have hinted that a gig on Tuesday may be canceled as a result.

Fans have been asked to keep checking the band’s website for updates on the show, which is due to take place in London, Ontario.

Gallagher’s attacker was hauled to the ground by security guards. The guitarist’s younger brother Liam, who was singing, had to be restrained from retaliating.

The incident was captured on video by a fan in the audience and posted on the YouTube website.

Oasis left the stage immediately after the attack, but the show resumed a few minutes later.

Gallagher’s assailant was detained in police custody and will be charged with assault, according to the statement on Oasis’ website.

The festival gig came as the band prepare to complete their North American tour, which ends in New York on Friday.

Gallagher has yet to comment on the incident on the blog which he has been updating throughout the tour.

Cuba hammered by Hurricane Ike

Cuba hammered by Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike has been battering eastern Cuba with giant waves and torrential rain but it weakened slightly as it made landfall.

The Category Two storm’s maximum sustained winds are still more than 165km/h (105mph).

Some homes along the coast, where some 800,000 people have been evacuated, have been damaged beyond repair.

Earlier, Ike killed 61 people in Haiti and reportedly damaged 80% of homes on the main Turks and Caicos islands.

The Cuban Meteorology Institute said the eye of the hurricane came ashore near Punta Lucrecia in the state of Holguin about 510 miles (823km) south-east of the capital Havana.

Hurricane Ike’s predicted path

With Hurricane Gustav striking just a week ago, Cuba’s internationally acclaimed emergency services are being stretched to the limit.

Gustav caused serious damage to the western side of the island, damaging almost 100,000 homes.

“In all of Cuba’s history, we have never had two hurricanes this close together,” Jose Rubiera, head of Cuba’s meteorological service, told state TV.

Windows shatter

Ike is forecast to reach Havana early on Tuesday morning.

Rubble blocks a street in Camaguey, Cuba, after the hurricane on 8 September

The storm left rubble strewn in the streets of Camaguey

A direct hit on the densely populated city of two million people with its precarious colonial buildings could be devastating, our correspondent says.

In the city of Holguin, a hotel worker named Carmela told Reuters news agency: “There is lot of worry, windows are beginning to break. There’s a lot of water, it’s raining very heavily.”

Among those evacuated before the arrival of Ike were 15,000 tourists.

RED CROSS APPEAL
The charity is accepting donations to help people in the Caribbean
Donations can be made on 0845 053 53 53 or via its

In the Camaguey region, in the path of the hurricane, resident Ramon Olivera was preparing to leave by motorcycle as municipal workers boarded up banks and restaurants.

“There’s no fear here but one has to be prepared – it could hit us pretty hard,” he told The Associated Press.

Haitian appeal

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, endured the onslaught of four tropical storms in a three week period.

RECENT MAJOR STORMS
Hurricane Ike: September
Tropical Storm Hanna: September
Hurricane Gustav: August, September
Tropical Storm Fay: August

Heavy rains and flooding sparked by the outer bands of the storm killed at least 61 people in Cabaret, to the north of the capital Port-au-Prince.

“The whole village is flooded,” said local civil protection official Moise Jean-Pierre. “The death toll could go higher.”

The destruction in Haiti has been described as catastrophic.

Police said 500 people were confirmed dead from recent Tropical Storm Hanna while others were still missing and the number could rise.

The newly installed Prime Minister, Michele Pierre Louis, has launched a fresh appeal for international aid.

He called in particular for helicopters to bring those left stranded by the floods to safety. Many lived for days on their rooftops to escape the flood waters.

Florida threat

Ike has been moving westwards at 20km/h (13mph) and is expected to make a 30-hour track along the centre of Cuba, although weakening on the way, the US National Hurricane Center says.

It has been downgraded to a Category Two storm, but the NHC said it was still potentially very dangerous.

On its current track the storm could threaten the islands of the Florida Keys by Tuesday. Some residents have received evacuation orders.

Emergency management director Craig Fugate urged them to move soon, or they “may find the escape route blocked by a hurricane”.


Are you in the Caribbean? Have you been affected by the storms? What preparations have you made to deal with the adverse weather? Send us your comments and experiences

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