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Death toll from Indonesian quake and tsunami rises to 832

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Jakarta: The toll from an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia soared to 832 confirmed dead, with authorities fearing it will only climb as rescuers struggle to reach outlying communities cut off from communications and help.
Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of two hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, which was hit by waves as high as six metres (20 feet) following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.
A young woman was pulled alive from the rubble of the Roa Roa Hotel, the news website Detik.com reported. Hotel owner Ko Jefry told Metro TV on Saturday that up to 60 people were believed trapped. Hundreds of people gathered at the mall searching for loved ones.
With most of the confirmed deaths from Palu, authorities are bracing for much worse as reports filter in from outlying areas, in particular, Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and closer to the epicentre of the quake, and two other districts.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the toll could rise into the thousands.
National disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference the affected area was bigger than initially thought, though rescuers only had good access to one of four affected districts – Palu.
“We haven`t received reports from the three other areas. Communication is still down, power is still out. We don`t know for sure what is the impact,” he said.
“There are many areas where the search and rescue teams haven`t been able to reach,” Nugroho said, adding that teams needed heavy equipment to move broken concrete.
Five foreigners – three French, one South Korean and one Malaysian – were among the missing, he said. The 832 fatalities included people crushed in collapsing buildings and swept to their death by tsunami waves.
Donggala town has been extensively damaged, with houses swept into the sea and bodies trapped in debris, according to a Metro TV reporter on the scene.
The Red Cross said it had heard nothing from the Donggala region.
“This is extremely worrying,” it said in a statement.
“This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse.”
National search and rescue agency chief Muhammad Syaugi told Reuters rescuers were flying to Donggala by helicopter.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government had allocated 560 billion rupiah ($37.58 million) for disaster recovery, media reported.
Indonesia is all too familiar with deadly earthquakes and tsunamis. In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.
Questions are sure to be asked why warning systems set up around the country after that disaster appear to have failed on Friday.
The meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the Friday quake but lifted it 34 minutes later, drawing criticism it had withdrawn it too quickly. But officials said they estimated the waves had hit while the warning was in force.
Hundreds of people had gathered for a festival on Palu`s beach when the water smashed onshore at dusk. A disaster official said the tsunami travelled across the sea at speeds of 800 kph (500 mph) before striking the shore.
Video footage on social media showed waves surging ashore in huge swirls of debris as people scattered.
Palu is at the head of a narrow bay, about 10 km long and 2 km wide, which had “amplified” the force of the wave as it was funnelled toward the city, a geophysics agency official said.
Questions have been raised about what caused the tsunami, with speculation an underwater landslide was to blame.
The BMKG said its closest sensor, about 200 km (125 miles) from Palu, had only recorded an “insignificant”, six-cm (2.5 inches) wave, while researchers said it was surprising the quake, which was recorded as a “strike-slip” event, when tectonic plates move horizontally against each other rather than vertically, had generated a tsunami.
“It may be that the shock of the quake triggered a landslide underwater,” Abdul Muhari, who heads a tsunami research team that advises the government, told Reuters.
About 16,000 displaced people were seeking shelter and needed clean water, Nugroho said, while 540 were people were injured, many getting treatment in tents set up in the open.
Photos showed bodies lined up on a street on Saturday, some in bags and some with their faces covered by clothes.
President Joko Widodo visited Palu on Sunday to inspect the rescue.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Indonesia had not asked for help but he had contacted Widodo overnight to offer support and deep sympathies.
“It is horrifying … If he needs our help, he’ll have it,” he told ABC TV’s Insiders programme.
The military has started sending in aircraft with aid from Jakarta and other cities, authorities said.Palu`s airport was damaged in the quake, but had reopened for limited commercial flights, authorities said.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes.
In August, a series of quakes killed more than 500 people on the tourist island of Lombok, hundreds of kilometres southwest of Sulawesi.


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Pakistan puts major CPEC power project on hold, asks China to delete it from list

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Islamabad: In a setback to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistan government has decided to put on hold a major power project, Rahim Yar Khan power project, and has reportedly informed the Chinese government about the same. According to a report in Pakistan-based Dawn News, the Pakistan government will shut down several other schemes under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

The report further said that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government has asked Beijing to “formally delete the project from the CPEC list”. The same was communicated to China in a meeting of the CPEC Joint Coordination Committee by Pakistan on December 20, 2018. According to the report, the project was pushed by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz government in the past.

The development comes months after China refuted charges that Pakistan’s current economic crisis crumbled because of projects under CPEC. China had said that blaming CPEC was uncalled for and that the corridor in fact was something that would bolster Pakistan economy in the years to come.

 

The defence of CPEC was necessiated after rising voices in Pakistan against it. Several people questioned the loans taken from China and asked the terms for their repayment. Even the United States has said that the current state of Pakistani economy is a result of loans it has taken from Beijing and has made it clear that it won’t allow any bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which would be used by Islamabad to repay Chinese debt.

The IMF also later observed that increasing Chinese involvement in Pakistan’s economy could be disastrous on the latter’s future.

Islamabad has already cut the size of the biggest Chinese “Silk Road” project in Pakistan, a reconstruction of the main rail line between the port city of Karachi and Peshawar in the northwest by $2 billion, citing government concerns about the country’s debt levels. The changes are part of Islamabad’s efforts to rethink key Belt and Road Initiative projects in Pakistan, to which China has pledged about $60bn in financing.

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Trump threatens to ‘devastate’ Turkey’s economy if it attacks Kurds

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Washington: US President Donald Trump said that America would “devastate Turkey economically” if the NATO-allied country attacks Kurds in the region. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining IS (Islamic State) territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms,” the President tweeted.

“Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” but followed up in a second tweet, “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

Turkey views some Kurdish groups in the region as terrorist organisations and Kurds make up the majority of US-allied fighters operating in Syria in the civil war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s regime, CNN reported.

 

It`s a stark threat toward an ally in the region that has partnered with the US in the fight against the IS. CNN reported on Thursday that the first US military ground equipment has been withdrawn from Syria, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly lashed out at US National Security Adviser John Bolton for saying the US withdrawal was contingent upon Ankara`s pledge not to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria once troops leave.

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Bill for delisting Pakistan as major ally tabled in US Congress

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WASHINGTON: A bill seeking to remove Pakistan from a list of America’s major non-Nato allies has been introduced in the US Congress, even though the Trump administration enhances its contacts with Islamabad in its pursuit of a peaceful end to the Afghan war.

The resolution — introduced by Congressman Andy Biggs who, like the Trump administration, is a Republican — sets new conditions for future re-designation.

If a US president desires to put Pakistan back on the list, he or she will have to certify to Congress that Pakistan continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the “safe haven and freedom of movement” of the Haqqani Network in the country.

 

The president also has to certify that Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting Haqqani Network’s senior leaders and mid-level operatives.
Take a look: Pakistan has given us nothing but lies and deceit, says US President Donald Trump

The re-designation will require another certification from Congress that Pakistan has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to preventing the Haqqani Network from using any Pakistani territory as a safe haven and that Pakistan actively cooperates with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Known as Resolution H.R. 73, the bill has been sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary action.

Mr Biggs, a second-term legislator, has no cosponsor and his move will need a strong support from the Trump administration and the Democratic Party to pass a House dominated by the Democrats.

In recent statements, President Donald Trump has clearly expressed his desire to withdraw at least half of the 14,000 US troops still stationed in Afghanistan.

Senior Democrats — both in and outside Congress — have also said that the United States cannot remain involved in these apparently unending wars in Afghanistan and Syria.

But before an ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Trump administration wants to ensure that the pullout does not lead to the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government in Kabul.

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