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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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International

‘Window dressing, made no difference,’ says US on Hafiz Saeed’s previous arrest

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Washington: The Trump Administration expressed doubts over Pakistan’s intentions in arresting terrorist Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack, saying his previous arrests made no difference either to his activities or that of his outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past. And we have been looking for sustained and concrete steps, not just window dressing,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US next week.

Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist was arrested on Wednesday — the seventh times since December 2001, when he was nabbed in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

 

“Let me reassure you, we are clear eyed about the history here. We’re under no illusions about the support that we could see from Pakistan’s military intelligence services to these groups. So we will look for concrete action,” the official said when asked about the actions that Pakistan has taken against terrorist group and if the US believes in them.

“I noticed that Pakistan has taken some initial steps such as pledging to seize assets of some of these terrorist groups. And, of course, they put under arrest yesterday Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” said the official requesting anonymity.

But the official quickly noted that this was the seventh time that Saeed was arrested since 2001 attack on India’s Parliament when he was detained right after that attack and was subsequently released.

“That is why we are very clear eyed and realistic when you see him arrested” as he has been arrested and released in the past. “So we would look to see that Pakistan take sustained action in actually prosecuting these people,” the official said.

“Quite frankly, the previous arrest of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed hasn’t made a difference and the LeT has been has been able to operate. So we’re monitoring the situation,” said the senior administration official as reporters asked questions on the links between Pakistani intelligence services and terrorist groups.

The US “remains concerned” about terrorist groups that continue to operate in Pakistan, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Haqqani network. “We do have concerns about link between these groups and Pakistan intelligence services in military. That’s no secret,” the official said.

The US, the official said, welcomes Prime Minister Khan’s pledge that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used by militant groups and its vocal leadership and the Trump Administration is pressing for a new direction in this regard.

According to the official, the US has seen some initial steps with Pakistan pledging to seize the assets of some of these terrorist leaders, pledged to reform the madrasa and has taken under administrative control some of the facilities owned by these groups.

Prime Minister Khan himself said that Pakistan cannot reach its full potential unless it has peace and stability in the region. Of course, peace and stability in the region would require it to crack down on the terrorist and militant groups that are creating the instability, the official said. Pakistan really needs to prove that this time they are something different, he said.

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It’s our America: Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump

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Washington: Former first lady Michelle Obama added her voice to the Democratic outcry following President Donald Trump’s attack on four ethnic minority congresswomen, saying “there’s a place for all of us.”

“What truly makes our country great is its diversity… Whether we are born here or seek refuge here, there’s a place for all of us,” Obama tweeted, without mentioning Trump.

“We must remember it’s not my America or your America. It’s our America.”

 

Trump has come under intense fire after he attacked four first-term Democratic congresswomen known as the “Squad.”

In a rare move, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday rebuked Trump for “racist comments” after he said the four should “go back” to their countries of origin if they are not happy in the United States.

But chants of “Send her back!” directed at Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar broke out at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, North Carolina on Wednesday night.

Trump claimed to reporters in the Oval Office the following day that he was not pleased by the taunts and attempted to cut them short.

Television footage, however, showed he let the chant continue for more than 10 seconds before he resumed speaking.

“Those are incredible people. Those are incredible patriots,” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Friday when asked about the chants.

“She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you,” he added about Omar.

The first-term lawmakers — all but one of whom, Omar, were born in the United States — are of Hispanic, Arab, Somali and African-American descent.

Some Republicans have urged Trump to tone down the rhetoric, but the president has made it clear that attacks on the “Squad” will be a centerpiece of his 2020 re-election strategy — despite the risk of inflaming racial tensions and widening the partisan divide.

Omar responded to the chants by condemning Trump’s “racist remarks” and branding him a “fascist.”

The president’s “nightmare is seeing a Somali immigrant refugee rise to Congress,” she told supporters when she returned home to Minnesota Thursday night.

“We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president, because his policies are a nightmare to us,” she said through a megaphone to the cheering crowd at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

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During talks with Pak PM, Trump to seek release of doctor who helped track Osama

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Washington: US President Donald Trump, during his meeting next week with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, would seek the release of jailed Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden, a senior administration official said Friday.

The two leaders are scheduled to meet at the White House on Monday.

“This is an extremely important issue to the President and the American people. I think Pakistan could demonstrate its leadership role in the region and among the international community by freeing Dr Afridi who remains unjustly imprisoned in Pakistan,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday.

 

Before being elected as the president of the United States Trump had said during his campaign that he will get Afridi freed within two minutes from Pakistan.

Afridi helped the CIA track down al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2011. He was later arrested and is currently serving a jail-term in Pakistan.

In an interview to Voice of America, the lawyer and family of Dr Afridi, expressed hope that Trump and Khan would discuss his release.

“Dr Afridi can’t sleep properly due to harsh conditions and sweltering heat as there is no window in the cell where he is kept. Imran Khan is visiting the US, but if Dr Afridi remains in pain, then I think the visit won’t be a success,” his lawyer Qamar Nadeem told the VOA.

The United States has requested Pakistan to free Dr Afridi, the senior administration official told a group of reporters ahead of the Monday meeting between Trump and Khan.

“We have clearly and regularly communicated this to Pakistan at the highest level in public and private and will continue to do so until he is released. Pakistan’s leadership will be judged by treatment of Dr Afridi, while he remains in prisons. We are calling on Pakistan to release him,” said the senior administration official.

Describing Dr Afridi as a “hero”, the senior administration official said that he helped the US capture the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, the worst terrorist incident in history.

“This is something that is of the utmost importance to us. It is likely to come up (during the meeting),” the official said, adding that it remains a very important issue for the US. He has been unjustly imprisoned, the official said.

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