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Time running out for survivors as death toll in tsunami-hit Indonesia nears 1,400

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Wani (Indonesia) :The death toll in Indonesia’s twin quake-tsunami disaster rose to nearly 1,400 , with time running out to rescue survivors and the UN warning of “vast” unmet needs.
Authorities set a tentative deadline of to find anyone still trapped under rubble, at which point — a week after this devastating double disaster — the chances of finding survivors will dwindle to almost zero.
Government rescue workers are focusing on half a dozen key sites around the ravaged seaside city of Palu — the Hotel Roa-Roa where up to 60 people are still believed buried, a shopping mall, a restaurant and the Balaroa area where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth temporarily to mush.
Almost 2,00,000 people need urgent help, the UN’s humanitarian office said, among them tens of thousands of children, with an estimated 66,000 homes destroyed or damaged by the 7.5-magnitude quake and the tsunami it spawned.
Despite the Indonesian government urging foreign rescue teams to “stand down” because the crisis was in hand, residents in hard-hit, remote villages like Wani in Donggala province say little help has arrived and hope is fading.
“Twelve people in this area haven’t yet been found,” Mohammad Thahir Talib told AFP.
“In the area to the south, because there hasn’t been an evacuation we don’t know if there are bodies. It’s possible there are more,” the 39-year-old said.
In Geneva, the United Nations expressed frustration at the slow pace of the response.
“There are still large areas of what might be the worst-affected areas that haven’t been properly reached, but the teams are pushing, they are doing what they can,” Jens Laerke, from the UN’s humanitarian office, told reporters late Tuesday.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that across Donggala, some 3,10,000 people have been affected by the disaster.
Survivors are battling thirst and hunger, with food and clean water in short supply, and local hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of injured. Officials on the ground said that while the government was now inviting offers of help, there is still no “mechanism for this to be implemented”.
Landing slots at Palu airport are snapped up by the Indonesian military, although it was expected to be open to commercial flights from 7:59am on Thursday.
Palu’s port, a key transit point for aid, has been damaged. Signs of desperation are growing, with police officers forced to fire warning shots and teargas on Tuesday to ward off people ransacking shops.
Six of the Indonesian social affairs ministry’s trucks laden with supplies were reportedly looted enroute to Palu.
In the main route north out of the city, an AFP journalist saw youths blocking the road and ask for “donations” to clear the way.
Widodo, who faces re-election next year, insisted the military and the police were in full control. “There is no such thing as looting,” he said on a visit to Palu.
As survivors pick through the shattered remains of their neighbourhoods, the death toll continues to rise.
“The death toll is now 1,374, 113 missing,” Willem Rampangilei, head of Indonesia’s national disaster agency, told reporters in Palu on Tuesday.
“And there are still a few bodies trapped under the rubble. We don’t know how many. Our priority is still to find and save people,” he added.


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Peace talks postponed after Taliban object to size of Afghan delegation

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KABUL: A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation.
The talks were set to begin in Doha, but a senior government official in Kabul said “the gathering has been called off for now and details were being reworked.”
Afghan delegates scheduled to fly to the Qatari capital on Thursday were told the trip was postponed and new dates were being discussed, a western diplomat in Kabul said.
“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said leaders of the hardline Islamist group were uncomfortable with the size of the Afghan delegation and its composition.
“Presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” Mujahid said, adding that the delegation included Afghans working for the government.
The Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime, but have held several rounds of peace talks with US officials.
Ghani said on Wednesday the 250-member Afghan delegation included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. But the group did not include some of the most powerful figures in Afghan politics, who are reluctant to join forces with Ghani ahead of presidential elections due in September.
A senior government official said Afghan-to-Afghan peace talks are in jeopardy.
The talks between Afghan and Taliban officials at the same table for the first time have been considered a significant first step towards finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The senior official said negotiations went awry after President Ashraf Ghani opposed a list of participants announced by the Qatar government, which is sponsoring the talks. The list of 243 people was announced by Qatar on Thursday.
The list differs in part from Ghani’s list of 250 people, according to the senior government official.

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N. Korea seeks Pompeo’s removal from nuclear talks

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SEOUL: North Korea demanded the removal of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from talks over its nuclear programme, hours after the isolated state claimed to have tested a new kind of weapon.
Describing Pompeo as “reckless” and immature, the foreign ministry said it wanted him replaced by another interlocutor, a demand that significantly ups the ante in a sensitive diplomatic standoff.
Pyongyang and Washington have been at loggerheads since the collapse of a summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump earlier this year.
“I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled,” Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the foreign ministry’s Department of American Affairs said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
“Therefore, even in the case of possible resumption of the dialogue with the US, I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but… (another) person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”
It is not the first time North Korea has singled out Pompeo for special criticism.
When the secretary of state met North Korean officials in Pyongyang in July last year, he was condemned for his “gangster-like” insistence that the North move towards unilateral disarmament.
Kwon, whom KCNA said was responding to a question from one of its journalists, said leader Kim had made clear that the US attitude had to change. He said Pompeo was standing in the way of a resumption of talks.
“We cannot be aware of Pompeo’s ulterior motive behind his self-indulgence in reckless remarks; whether he is indeed unable to understand words properly or just pretending on purpose.
“The US cannot move us one iota by its current way of thinking. In his previous visits to Pyongyang, Pompeo was granted audiences with our Chairman of the State Affairs Commission for several times and pleaded for the denuclearisation.
“However, after sitting the other way round, he spouted reckless remarks hurting the dignity of our supreme leadership at Congress hearings last week to unveil his mean character by himself, thus stunning the reasonable people.”
Analysts said the North might have been reacting to Pompeo’s assessment — during a recent Senate hearing — that Kim could be described as a “tyrant”.
“By agreeing that Kim is a tyrant, Pompeo basically insulted the North’s ‘highest majesty’,” said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

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23 killed as thunderstorms, dust storm lash Pakistan

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Islamabad: Massive thunderstorms and a dust storm lashed Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces, killing at least 23 people, injuring scores of others, according to media reports

Heavy rain and storm caused by a westerly wave uprooted electricity poles and trees in different parts of the country and also damaged properties on Monday.

Intermittent downpour in western, central and northern parts of the country for the past few days has rendered mud houses susceptible to the collapse, while land slide and flash floods in some areas have already made several roads dangerous for travel, Dawn reported.

 

Thunderstorm in Punjab province resulted in the collapse of several buildings, leaving at least nine persons, including two women, dead. Four deaths were reported in Khanewal district; three in Hasilpur area of Bahawalnagar district; and two Dunyapur tehsil of Lodhran district. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Chitral valley, a woman and two men died when the roof of their house collapsed and fell on them.

In Balochistan province, authorities declared emergency on Monday after torrential rains and flash flooding wreaked havoc and killed at least nine persons, including a child. Heavy rainfall in Quetta, Gwadar, Chagai, Harnai, Duki, Jewani, Jaffarabad, Kohlu, Sibi, Barkhan, Chaman and other districts of Balochistan caused flooding in nullahs and drains which severed land link in various parts of the province, the Express Tribune reported.

The low-lying areas had been submerged due to continuous rainfall in Kohlu and adjoining areas. In separate incidents related to the dust storm that hit Karachi, four persons, including two young girls died, an equal number of fishermen went missing and dozens of others suffered injuries, according to officials and rescue services.

Gusty winds also uprooted several trees, poles and signboards, broke windowpanes of some high-rise buildings and damaged the walls of schools and homes in Karachi.

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