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Indonesian rescuers use drones as tsunami death toll tops 400

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LABUAN: Indonesian rescuers used drones and sniffer dogs to search for survivors along the devastated west coast of Java hit by a tsunami that killed at least 429 people.

Thick ash clouds continued to spew from Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island where a crater collapse at high tide on Saturday sent waves smashing into coastal areas on both sides of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Sumatra and Java.

At least 154 people are still missing. More than 1,400 people were injured and thousands of residents had to move to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday.

 

Rescuers used heavy machinery, sniffer dogs and special cameras to detect and dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 100km (60-mile) stretch of Java`s west coast and officials said the search area would be expanded further south, following the discovery of washed away bodies. “There are several locations that we previously thought were not affected,” said Yusuf Latif, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency. “But now we are reaching more remote areas…and in fact there are many victims there,” he added.

Authorities said rescuers were working around the clock to reach six villages, currently inaccessible by road and where waves from the tsunami were believed to be as high as five metres. The vast archipelago, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami in September killed more than 2,000 people on a remote part of Sulawesi island. It took only 24 minutes after the landslide for waves to hit land, and there was no early warning for those living on the coast.

The meteorological and geophysics agency, BMKG, is asking residents to stay away from the shoreline by as much as 1 kilometre, due to the risk of extreme weather on Wednesday and waves up to 2 metres high. BMKG head Dwikorita Karnawati said on Tuesday the agency is worried about the rough weather making the volcano`s crater more fragile.

Experts warn that a second disaster remains possible. “Since Anak Krakatau has been actively erupting for the past several months additional tsunamis cannot be excluded,” said Hermann Fritz, from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rainfall and low visibility. Military and volunteer teams used drones to assess the extent of the damage along the coast. Food, water, blankets, and medical aid are trickling into remote areas via inland roads choked with traffic.

Thousands of people are staying in tents and temporary shelters like mosques or schools, with dozens sleeping on the floor or in crowded public facilities.Ayub, a 20-year old fisherman sleeping with his family in a tent provided by the military, said conditions camp were not ideal due to the rain, but that they had enough food. “Everything is destroyed…My boat, motorcycle, house – all of it,” he told Reuters. “The most important thing is we’re alive.”

Other residents of the same emergency camp, like Tarini, a mother of four, told Reuters their families had been left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. “I`m sad for my children,” she said. “We want things to return to how they were, but we are afraid to return.”

At the nearby seaside town of Carita, which suffered some of the worst losses, local congregations held tearful Christmas vigils for victims. While many churchgoers have fled the area for fear of further disasters, some like Nikson Sihombing came from temporary evacuation centres. “We usually celebrate with joy and festivities, but with the tsunami, we can only pray humbly and not celebrate much for this year’s Christmas,” he said.

Destruction caused by the disaster was visible along the coastline where waves of up to 5 metres (6 feet) crushed vehicles, felled trees, lifted chunks of metal, wooden beams and household items and deposited them on roads and rice fields. Out in the strait, Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) was still erupting and authorities imposed a 2km exclusion zone around it.

BMKG said an area of about 64 hectares (222 acres), or about 90 soccer pitches, of the volcanic island had collapsed into the sea. In 1883, the volcano, then known as Krakatoa, erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis, and lowering the global surface temperature by 1 degree Celsius with its ash. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927, and has been growing ever since.

President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, told disaster agencies to install early warning systems, but experts said that, unlike tsunami caused by earthquakes, little could have been done in time to alert people that waves were coming.


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International

Peace talks with Taliban will happen soon: US

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KABUL: The US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan said talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon” but if the insurgents continue to fight, then American forces would support Afghan forces in the war.

Talks between the Taliban and American officials have hit a roadblock after the hardline militants cancelled the fourth round of peace talks last week and rejected the involvement of the Afghan government in the dialogue.

The Taliban threatened to pull out of the peace process with the United States if they diverted from the issue of foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan, a key demand of the insurgents to end the 17-year war.

 

The Taliban’s warning came hours after Zalmay Khalilzad landed in Afghanistan after meeting officials from India, China and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the peace process. “If the Taliban want to talk, we can talk. If they want to fight, we can fight,” Khalilzad told journalists in Kabul.

The White House has said President Donald Trump had not issued orders to the Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but the White House has not denied reports that the United States plans to pull out some of the 14,000-strong force currently deployed.

Khalilzad said: “We hope that they [Taliban] want to make peace. But if they do not choose to come to the table, if they choose to continue fighting, the United States will stand with the Afghan people and the Afghan government and support them.”

Speaking about the next date for a meeting with the Taliban, he said: “We are hopeful it will happen very soon. That’s what we’re working towards.” “What we want is to see this conflict end through negotiation, to continue our partnership with Afghanistan and to ensure no terrorist threatens either of us,” Khalilzad told reporters.

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UN approves mission to shore up Yemen truce

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UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the deployment to Yemen of up to 75 monitors in a new mission to shore up a fragile ceasefire and oversee a pullback of forces from the flashpoint port of Hodeida.

The observer mission was agreed during talks last month in Sweden between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels and an advance team is already on the ground in the rebel-held city.

The unarmed monitors will be sent to Hodeida city and port as well as to the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa for an initial period of six months.

 

The resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “expeditiously” deploy the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement (UNMHA), led by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert.

Guterres has described the mission as a “nimble presence” that will report on violations in Hodeida, which for months was the front line in the war after pro-government forces launched an offensive to capture it in June.

Human Rights Watch warned of a tough road ahead and urged the council to keep the pressure on the warring sides.

“The countdown for exchanging prisoners is fast approaching, but the parties have missed deadlines, putting the prisoner swap in jeopardy,” said Louis Charbonneau, HRW’s UN director.

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Lift travel ban on opposition leaders: Pak SC asks Imran Khan govt

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court Thursday ordered the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to lift the travel ban imposed on opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the Sindh Chief Minister, and asked the country’s anti-corruption body to probe their involvement in Rs 35 billion ‘fake accounts case’.

As many as 172 suspects were placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) on the recommendations of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the apex court.

A person cannot fly abroad if his name is placed on the ECL.

 

The Supreme Court, in a detailed judgement, ordered the government to remove the names of opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the ECL.

It, however, referred the report and material collected by the JIT in the Rs 35 billion ‘fake accounts case’ to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Dawn news reported.

The JIT probe focused on “32 fake accounts” which were allegedly used to give massive financial benefits to former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and several others.

“Removing of the names will not prevent (the) NAB to probe and in case sufficient material is found connecting these individuals with cognisable offences, it will not be precluded from making an appropriate request to the federal government to place their names on (the) ECL again or take any appropriate action provided by law,” according to the judgement authored by Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan.

The apex court in its earlier instructions asked the government to delete names of Bilawal and Shah from the ECL but the Cabinet waited for the detailed judgment.

After the judgement, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government will decide whether it should implement the court orders or file a review petition.

Justice Ahsan was part of the three-judge bench that last year took a suo-motu cognisance after it emerged that several big names were involved in money laundering through fake accounts.

Currently, a Karachi court is hearing the case against Zardari and Talpur for alleged money laundering.

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