Monthly Archives: October 2010

North and South Korea Exchange Fire at Land Border

North Korean and South Korean military units exchanged gunfire near their border Friday, South Korean authorities said. No casualties were reported. The exchange happened after North Korean forces fired two rounds from a 14.5 millimeter machine gun at a South Korean military guard post near the border town of Chorwon, South Korea, about 73 miles (118 km) northeast of Seoul, according to an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The South Korean unit responded with three “warning shots” from a .50-caliber machine gun and warned the North Korean guard post by loudspeaker to desist, the official said. The demilitarized zone at the location of the shooting is 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) wide. Chorwon was the scene of heavy fighting during the 1950-53 Korean War.

A spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said that no South Koreans were hurt in the exchange of fire, AFP reports. “There were no more shots afterwards. We are no closely watching their movements,” the unnamed spokesperson said. (BBC)

The BBC’s John Sudworth, in Seoul, said that the exchange appears to have been a small incident which did not cause any damage. South Korean officials are not ruling out the possibility that the initial shot from the northern side of the border was accidental rather than deliberate, the BBC correspondent added.

The South’s defence ministry said in a statement that none of its troops were hurt, and there had been “no more unusual activity by the North.” (Reuters) A South Korean military official said the army had been put on heightened alert. The official said he had not received any communications from the North.

Earlier on Friday the North warned that relations with its neighbour would face a “catastrophic impact” if South Korea continued to reject talks aimed at easing tension. (BBC) The first round of discussion in two years ended without progress in September after Seoul demanded an apology from Pyongyang for the warship sinking. “When looking back on the history of the North-South relations, it is very hard to find a precedent in which one party rejected the talks proposed by the other party even when the bilateral relations reached the lowest ebb,” the North’s KCNA state news agency reported. “This was because the rejection of dialogue precisely meant confrontation and war.” (Reuters)

The gunfire exchange apparently won’t cancel reunions of families separated by the Korean War, which ended in a truce but no formal peace treaty. The weeklong reunions begin Saturday at Mount Kumgang, the two countries’ joint mountain resort in the North. North Korea has requested record shipments of rice and fertilizer in exchange for concessions on the reunions, the South Korean Yonhap news agency reported earlier this week. Earlier this week, the South Korean government sent its first delivery of aid to the North in more than two years.

While there are occasional shooting incidents across the demilitarized zones, the tensest flash point on the peninsula in recent years has been the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea.

There were fatal naval clashes there in 1999 and 2002. In March this year, the sinking of a South Korean vessel killed 26 in what a South Korean and international investigation team concluded was a North Korean torpedo attack. North Korea continues to deny involvement.

The prickly relationship between the countries since the Korean War has had periodic conciliatory moves and flare-ups. Friday’s incident occurred two weeks before the G-20 summit in Seoul. The G-20 includes industrialized nations and developing economies, which focus on economic issues and economic policy coordination. Authorities said a total of 50,000 police and riot police will be deployed during the summit on November 11 and 12, according to Yonhap.

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Continuing Story: Indonesia Volcano Erupts, Tsunami Deaths Rising

Mount Merapi Volcano Erupts

The Mount Merapi volcano in Indonesia erupted at least three times Tuesday, forcing thousands of nearby residents to flee. Indonesian media reported that 15 people were killed, including some journalists who were staying in a gatehouse to get close to the volcano. CNN could not independently verify those reports. Mount Merapi, which looms on the horizon north of the major city of Yogyakarta, is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes and lies in a summit elevation of nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). Scientists warn the pressure building up beneath the volcano’s lava dome could lead to one of the most powerful blasts in years.

Thousands of residents living on the volcano’s slopes have been evacuated. However, a further 13,000 people need to be evacuated from within a 10-mile (16 kilometre) radius of the volcano, officials say. It is thought that 5,000 people live on or near the volcano.

Christian Awui, a rescuer at the scene, told CNN that the first thing that residents heard were sirens from an early warning system announcing the coming eruptions. “There was panic,” he said. “You could hear the rumbles of the volcano.” People ran to a refugee camp about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) away. Because it was still dark, it was hard to tell how the eruptions compared with the previous ones, Awui said.

Television footage showed thousands of people fleeing the area, some covered in the volcano’s white ash which rained from the sky.

The head of one village near the volcano said that many residents were stranded. He said rain loaded with volcanic ash had reduced visibility to just 5 metres (16 feet).

“We are evacuating to the village square, around 14 kilometres from Mount Merapi slope. Some of the villagers are still stranded but we received text messages from them, saying that they are OK,” Heri Suprapto told the BBC. Suprapto told the BBC’s Indonesia service that 372 “very weak” people from three villages had been evacuated. “Transportation has also been prepared for villagers who are in good health whenever evacuation needs to be done. Preparations are also underway to evacuate individuals by using motorbike and small cars.” (BBC)

A doctor at a nearby hospital said that at least six people had been badly burnt by the hot air rushing from the volcano, Reuters reports. One eyewitness said he saw people with bad burns being taken away on stretchers, the agency reports. There were also reports that a three-month-old baby had died from breathing difficulties after inhaling volcanic material.

Some nongovernmental relief agencies were poised to offer immediate help. One of them was World Vision Indonesia, a Christian relief and development agency. “Right now, our biggest concern is the children,” said Fadli Usman, World Vision Indonesia’s rapid assessment team leader. “Children are always forgotten in the early moments of a disaster like this. My first task will be to assess the needs of the children and their families in the evacuation centers so our team can begin to help them.” (CNN)

Usman said about 1,500 people – mostly women and children – had found refuge at a four-building shelter about 7 miles (12 kilometres) from the volcano. The evacuees, he said, are worried about the men who stayed behind to guard their homes and fields on the mountain. A dusting of ash covered motorbikes and cars at the shelter parking lot, the relief worker said. The heavy ash fallout also obscured any view of the mountain from his location, he said. Usman had reported earlier that traffic was heavy as people left the region near the mountain. The traffic was not chaotic, he said, and the road was open and under control.

On Monday, officials monitoring the volcano raised the alert for Mount Merapi to the highest possible level. Since then, more than 600 volcanic earthquakes have been recorded around the mountain.

“We heard three explosions around 6:00 p.m. spewing volcanic material as high as 1.5 kilometres (one mile) and sending heat clouds down the slopes,” government volcanologist Surono, who goes by one name, told AFP. He warned that pressure was building up behind a lava dome near the crater. “We hope it will release slowly,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re looking at a potentially huge eruption, bigger than anything we’ve seen in years.” (BBC) He said this eruption was more powerful than the volcano’s last blast in 2006, which killed two people. In 1930, another powerful eruption wiped out 13 villages, killing more than 1,000 people.

Pronco Sumatro, 65, who arrived at a makeshift camp with her two grandchildren, said her children had stayed behind to look after their crops. “I just have to follow orders to take shelter here for safety, even though I’d rather like to stay at home,” the Associated Press news agency quoted her as saying.

BBC Indonesia correspondent Karishma Vaswani says that for many Javanese, Mt. Merapi is a sacred site. Officials say some of the villagers are waiting for the local “gatekeeper” of the volcano to tell them that the increased activity at Mt. Merapi is dangerous. Described as a medicine man, he is believed by many villagers to have a spiritual connection to the volcano. He has reportedly said he will not leave yet, but is urging villagers to make their way to government shelters, Vaswani said. Indonesia’s vice-president and health minister are preparing to travel to the affected region on Wednesday.

Tsunami

At least 112 people were killed and 502 others were missing after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck off Sumatra on Monday and triggered a tsunami, Indonesian officials said Tuesday. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the quake generated a “significant” tsunami. Some of the missing may include people who are unaccounted for after fleeing to higher ground, said Henri Dori Satoko, the head of the Mentawai Islands parliament. Although communication with remote areas was difficult, some witnesses in West Sumatra reported seeing a wave 6 metres (nearly 20 feet) high. Other reports described the tsunami as being about 3 metres (almost 10 feet) high. Satoko said at least one village with a population of about 200 people was swept away, with only 40 people recovered.

The numbers of the dead and injured were in flux because information was trickling in from remote parts of Indonesia, a country made up of myriad islands. The area believed hardest-hit was the Mentawai Islands, a popular surfing destination. In particular, Pagai Island was thought to have been affected, said Ita Balanda, a program manager for World Vision in Padang.

The quake struck at 9:42 p.m. Monday, triggering a tsunami warning that was later lifted when sea level readings indicated the threat had diminished or was over for most areas. Its epicentre was 240 kilometres (150 miles) south of Padang, at a depth of 20.6 kilometres (12.8 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The magnitude was revised upward from a preliminary magnitude of 7.5.

“Ten villages have been swept away by the tsunami,” National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Agolo Suparto told AFP.

Most buildings in the South Pagai coastal village of Betu Monga were destroyed, Hardimansyah, an official with the regional branch of the Department of Fisheries, told the Reuters news agency by phone. “Of the 200 people living in that village, only 40 have been found – 160 are still missing, mostly women and children,” he said. “We have people reporting to the security post here that they could not hold on to their children, that they were swept away. A lot of people are crying.” (BBC)

“Big, slow, long earthquake last night, and a couple tremblers afterward,” WavePark Mentawai Surfing Resort said on its website. “Turns out it was a 7.5 about 70 [kilometres] south of us.” The resort said it saw “about six waves on the beach after about 20 minutes” but none was higher than usually seen during high tide. “No damage here, but reports of damage to other resorts and charter boats further south,” the posting said. (CNN) “The local residents in the Mentawai Islands reported seeing a tsunami as high as 3 metres [that] reached as far as 600 metres inland,” said Mujiharto of the Indonesian Health Ministry.

The Perfect Wave, a surf travel company that said it had 32 clients in the area, also described the wave in a statement as about 3 metres (10 feet) high, and said it washed through a bay where two boats with clients on board were docked. One boat hit the other, which caught on fire, and all the guests jumped overboard. Nine guests and five crew members were washed into the jungle and took more than an hour to make their way to safety, the company said. All those aboard were picked up by a third boat and were safe “apart from suffering some smoke inhalation and minor scratches,” the statement said. (CNN) A surf guide aboard the third boat reported “there was a lot of debris floating in the water including bar stools and other pieces of furniture from Macaronis Resort,” the company said. “No news on the state of the village at Silabu.” (CNN) The resort, where six clients were staying, is “all but gone,” the statement said. The Perfect Wave said it was working to obtain replacement passports for its clients and organize flights home.

“It’s very difficult to access the coast right now because the sea is quite bad,” said Gilles Bordessoule, owner of the Siloinak Surf Resort. (CNN) He said his property was unaffected, but his staff was attempting to help the Macaronis Resort, which was “completely destroyed” along with two others. Two of the Macaronis guests are missing, he said. He said the only means of communications with the affected area is by satellite phone, which is how he found out about the resort and received some other information. The fate of the other 130 kilometres (80 miles) of coastline is unknown, he said. Brodessoule said he had been in contact with authorities and residents of the area and was told between 150 and 180 people are dead and body bags are needed.

Waves reached 3 metres (10 feet) high and the water swept inland as far as 600 metres on South Pagai island, said Mudjiharto, the head of Indonesia’s health ministry crisis centre. He said 200 body bags were being sent to the region in case they were needed.

A group of Australians caught up in the tsunami have described how their boat was destroyed by a wall of water. Captain Rick Hallet told Australian media that his boat was anchored off the shore when the waves came. “We felt a bit of a shake underneath the boat… then within several minutes, we heard an almighty roar,” he said. “I immediately thought of a tsunami and looked out to sea and that’s when we saw the wall of white water coming at us,” he said. (BBC) The wave brought another boat crashing into them and sparked a fire, forcing them to jump in the sea. Some of those on board were swept up to 200 metres inland by the wave, he said.

Meanwhile, the crew of another Australian boat, the Southern Cross – which went missing for nearly 24 hours after the quake – have been found safe and well, Australian media reported. The nine Australians and a Japanese man on board had lost their radio signal but made contact with their tour company late on Tuesday, Australia’s APP News Agency reported.

Large waves were keeping rescue crews and aid workers from reaching the area. An Indonesian Red Cross assessment team had set out for the island but was forced to turn back because of high seas and debris in the water, said Gayat, a spokeswoman for the agency, who like many Indonesians only uses one name. She said the team will try again Wednesday morning. The trip takes 10 hours, even under good conditions, Balanda said. Balanda said her organization is working with the Indonesian government and the United Nations to figure out how to get to the hardest-hit area. Indonesian government resources have been sent to central Java, where Mount Merapi was erupting, she said, but said her group hopes one or two helicopters will be freed up to help with the quake and tsunami response. She said she is receiving information from a local nongovernmental organization as well as others in the region.

The city of Padang and the Mentawai Islands are the meeting place of two tectonic plates, making them vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis.

On December 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off northern Sumatra. A tsunami generated by that earthquake killed more than 225,000 people in 4 countries – mainly India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The Indonesian region of Banda Aceh was hard-hit: About 150,000 died there.


7.5 Earthquake Strikes Off Indonesia, Threat of Volcano Eruption

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.5 struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia on Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The agency increased the magnitude to a 7.7 as the day progressed. A local tsunami watch was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre after the quake struck at 9:42 p.m. A destructive, widespread tsunami is not expected. A local tsunami may have been generated that could affect coasts located within 100 km (62 miles) from the epicentre, according to the Warning Centre. The quake’s epicentre was located 240 km (149 miles) south of Padang at a depth of 33 km (20.5 miles), according to USGS. The quake could be felt in towns in Bengkulu and west Sumatra provinces.

“There was shaking that went on for about three seconds or so,” Indonesian disaster management agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono told AFP News Agency. “Residents panicked and ran to the hills but now they are starting to come down. There is no report of casualties or damages.” (BBC) Aftershocks hit the area, with one registered at magnitude 5.0 about an hour after the first tremor.

“Everyone was running out of their houses,” said Sofyan Alawi, a resident of the city of Padang. She said loudspeakers in mosques had broadcast tsunami warnings and roads to nearby hills were soon swarming with cars and motorcycles.” (CBC)

“We kept looking back to see if a wave was coming,” said Ade Syahputra. (CBC)

Indonesian officials have also gone on high alert and have started evacuations as they warily monitor Mount Merapi, a volatile volcano in central Java that might erupt at any time. “The local government is coordinating to evacuate around 40,000 villagers to the pre-assigned shelters,” Neulis Aulisari of the national disaster coordination board said Monday. (CNN) Seismic activity has intensified, signaling that an eruption is imminent, according to Indonesian volcanologists. The 3,000-meter Merapi is famously unpredictable, though. A pyroclastic flow – a fast-moving burst of blistering glass and rock fragments – is a key concern. One killed two people in 2006 and another killed more than 60 villagers in 1994. About 1,300 people died when Merapi erupted in 1930.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” one of the world’s most active areas for earthquakes and volcanoes.


Fresh Clashes as French Protests Continue

Fresh clashes broke out Wednesday between protesters and police in France as hundreds of thousands rallied in opposition to planned pension reforms. About 1.1 million people have demonstrated across the country, French media quoted police as saying. Unions put the figure at 3.5 million nationwide, with the rolling strike in its second week.

Cars were set alight and buildings damaged in the Paris suburb of Nanterre while a van was set ablaze in Lyon, according to Agence France-Presse. Video footage shot by a CNN iReporter on Monday night showed queues of cars lined up at gas stations in the Paris suburbs. He said there was a three to four-hour wait for diesel fuel. In Marseille, officials said that they would use 150 city employees to help clear away mounds of garbage, while some protesters used trucks to block tunnels in the early hours of the morning and shut down bus and tram services.

France has begun importing electricity as the strikes take hold of energy supplies. In one hour on Wednesday, 5,990 megawatts were imported, equivalent to the output of six nuclear reactors. At least 12 of France’s 58 reactors are shut for maintenance but the unions say production has been cut at four others. The CGT union said striking workers had lowered output at the Cattenom nuclear plant in north eastern France. “We’re ready to continue striking every day and go all the way,” a CGT union representative near Marseille told Reuters. It also claimed that strikers in the South West had cut power to 15 town halls controlled by Sarkozy’s UMP party. France’s other energy supplies have already been severely disrupted by industrial action which has left all the country’s 12 oil refineries blockaded for more than a week and a quarter of its petrol stations empty. MP’s were told on Wednesday that 3,190 had run dry. Striking gas workers were also reported to have stopped gas from being injected into the country’s network from three out of 12 storage sites.

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said on TF1 television’s evening news that the government hoped petrol pumps would be full again in a few days. She also urged people rioting on the fringes of protests or blockading fuel depots to think about France’s image and its need to speed up its economic recovery. “I truly appeal to people’s sense of responsibility, particularly those who think it’s fun to blockade things and smash them up,” Lagarde said. “It’s serious for our country because France is missing a chance to come out of the crisis under better conditions than others.” (Reuters)

In spite of the government’s claims that the protests will gradually fizzle out, union workers say they will not back down. “You cannot say, ‘now that it’s been adopted we simply swallow the law and everyone goes home’. I think we have to go on,” said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvriere union. French President Nicolas Sarkozy told ministers Wednesday he had ordered police to break the blockades at fuel depots, with three peacefully reopened overnight. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux authorized use of the paramilitary police to break blockades at fuel depots. He warned rioters that “the right to protest is not the right to break things, the right to set things on fire, the right to assault, the right to pillage.” He added: “We will use all means necessary to get these delinquents.” (New York Times)

The BBC’s Christian Fraser said this force was equivalent to a SWAT team whose normal duties include hostage rescue. In the early hours of Wednesday, riot police lifted the blockade at three fuel depots in Donges, La Rochelle and Le Mans. However, strikers reimposed their blockade at Donges. In the south of the country, unions blocked the fuel depot at Trapil, which supplies civilian and military airports in the region, but were later said to have left the site of their own accord. The BBC’s correspondent said the unions and the government were engaging in a game of cat-and-mouse over the fuel blockades.

Transport workers continued their protests and the national rail operator, the SNCF, said one in three high-speed TGV trains had been cancelled. About 300 striking workers staged a protest at France’s main airport, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle in Paris, blocking the main terminal building. They sang the national anthem before pushing through a police barricade and marching through the building, blowing whistles and waving flags. Protesters also blocked the main road leading to one of the two terminals at Orly airport in Paris, then blocked the road to the other terminal, according to the Paris airport authority. “For millions of our citizens, transportation is a vital issue. This is a fundamental freedom,” Sarkozy said. (CNN)

President Sarkozy issued a statement elaborating on the fact that the disruption to travel could not continue: “If it is not stopped quickly, this disorder which is aimed at paralyzing the country could have consequences for jobs by damaging the normal running of economic activity.” (BBC)

The French education ministry said students from 379 high schools are
skipping classes to join the strikes. Some students told CNN in Paris that they are worried they won’t be able to get jobs if the current generation hangs onto jobs for an extra two years.

The government is working to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and make other changes to the pension system with Senate lawmakers due to vote on the proposals on Thursday. French senators stayed in the chamber until 3 a.m. Tuesday, working their way through roughly 1,000 amendments to the bill. Sarkozy, the main proponent of pension reform, said it was “essential” and that “France will implement it.” (CNN) The government contends that France could not afford the earlier retirement payments. The lower house of parliament has already passed it, by a vote of 329 to 233. If there are substantial differences between the Senate and National Assembly versions, a conference committee will have to iron them out before the final version goes to the president. “It is natural and normal that it creates certain fears,” Sarkozy said about the reform. “And it is also normal and natural that a democratic government in a parliamentary democracy assures that drivers find fuel.” (CNN)

Jean-François Copé, the leader of the legislators of the ruling party in the National Assembly, said on Wednesday that this was “the week of truth” on the pension reform and emphasized “the cohesion of the majority and the government” about the change, saying, “there is no other solution to save our pension system.” (New York Times) He then criticized the opposition Socialist Party for promoting the demonstrations without a viable legislative alternative and for calling students, whose weeklong school holiday starts on Friday, into the streets. And he said he was scandalized that “a handful of people have taken the economy of our country hostage by blocking the fuel depots.” (New York Times)

The Prime Minister, François Fillon, said in the National Assembly that the protests would fade once the law is in place. He cited other pension reforms in 1993, 2003 and 2007, that had also prompted protests, but “progressively became the law of republic, accepted by a very large majority of our citizens.” He added that “social confrontation is part of our democracy, but social consensus is, as well.” (New York Times)

President Sarkozy’s poll ratings appear to have dropped even further as he tries to tackle the wave of protests. One poll for BVA conducted on October 15 and 16 suggested his approval rating was down to 30%, the lowest for three years. The number of French with either a negative or very negative opinion of their president rose five points from September to 69%.


Gunmen Dead After Suicide Attack on Chechen Parliament

Heavily armed gunmen burst into the Parliament of Chechnya in southern Russia on Tuesday morning, killing at least three people and wounding more than a dozen others before they were killed by police or by their own explosives, officials said. The attackers, including one suicide bomber, unleashed a hail of automatic rifle fire and set off at least one explosion in one of the most brazen assaults to occur for some time in Chechnya, a region in the volatile North Caucasus where violence linked to a simmering Islamist insurgency is common.

Police were able to prevent the militants from reaching parliament members’ chambers, investigators said, though the men were able to barricade themselves on the first floor and open fire. Investigators said that three gunmen, armed with automatic weapons and explosives, drove through the front gates of the parliament complex, which is located in a busy section of downtown Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. It is believed they arrived at the parliament building by car, tailgating vehicles belonging to deputies, at about 0845 local time. Shouting Islamist slogans including “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is great,” the three fighters launched a bomb and gun attack as deputies arrived for work, killing two guards and an official. One of the militants then blew himself up, killing a staff member, said Alvi A. Karimov, the press secretary for Ramzan A. Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leader. The force of the blast blew out windows and injured several others.

Russian television showed panicked workers, some clutching injuries, stumbling past corpses to flee the parliament grounds, while heavily armoured police in helmets and flack jackets raced in. All members of parliament were evacuated, though at least 17 people, including six police, were wounded in the attack, which ended when special forces units killed the remaining militants. Deputies inside the building managed to escape by moving to an upper floor. A spokesman for the Chechen parliament, Zelim Yakhikhanov, said deputies had feared they would be taken hostage when they heard shooting outside the building. “We managed to take refuge on the third floor where we stayed until the end of the operation,” he told AFP news agency. (BBC) Mr. Kadyrov said the operation to suppress the attack took between 15 and 20 minutes. The official killed was reportedly the parliamentary bursar. Six police officers and 11 civilians were wounded, according to Russian prosecutors. It is unclear how such a small group of armed men could have penetrated the government building, which is usually heavily guarded. The city has been sealed off since the attack, and armoured vehicles are patrolling the streets, the pro-rebel news website Kavkaz-Tsentr said. (BBC)

The explosions caused heavy damage to parts of the building, according to a reporter for the state-run Interfax news agency. Stained-glass windows on several floors were blown out, as were exterior tiles on the building, and some interior walls were demolished, the reporter said.

No one immediately took responsibility for the attack, though it bore all the hallmarks of similar violence carried out by the region’s Islamist insurgents. An embattled, though still potent force, the insurgency arose from the remains of a fierce separatist movement that kept Russian forces at bay during nearly a decade of intermittent war in Chechnya that began in the mid-1990s.

Alexei Maleshenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, described the attack as “a slap in the face for Ramzan Kadyrov. The war is not finished if you can seize the parliament in the centre of the city – all Ramzan’s claims of victor over rebels are worthless,” the analyst told AFP.

Speaking at parliamentary session held in Grozny later on Tuesday despite the attacks, Mr. Kadyrov blamed the insurgents for seeking to spread “chaos and anarchy” through the region. “Today’s incident shows once again that these remaining gangs are truly devils,” he said in remarks posted to his Web site. “They have no humanity and have nothing in common with Islam. They are not human beings.” (New York Times) “They came into the parliament’s territory,” Mr. Kadyrov also said on the Web site. “They had weapons for a long fight, and what did we do? Destroyed them like rats… Allah created me to destroy these devils.” (Reuters) He said that all the deputies and other people inside the building had been freed.

On Tuesday, Russia’s interior minister, Rashid G. Nurgaliyev, played down the significance of the day’s violence, calling such attacks uncommon in Chechnya. Mr. Nurgaliyev, who happened to be visiting the region, called Chechnya “stable and safe,” and praised the response by riot police, who thwarted what he said was an attempt to take over the parliament building. “As always, the attempt failed,” he said in televised remarks. “Unfortunately, it was not without losses.” (New York Times) Nurgaliyev held an emergency meeting with Mr. Kadyrov shortly after the attack. He commended the Chechen security forces’ response to the attack, saying they had acted “professionally and competently,” and describing the attack as “untypical.” (BBC)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the family of each of the people killed by the attackers would receive compensation of 1 million rubles ($33,000) while those wounded would receive 400,000 rubles.

The attack was condemned by the EU and US who both pledged to work together with Russia to defeat “terrorism”. The EU foreign policy cheif, Baroness Ashton, was quoted by AFP news agency as saying: “No circumstances can justify the use of terrorist violence and suicide attacks.” (BBC) US National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer offered condolences to the families of those who were killed and to those who were wounded.

Correspondents say the incident in the capital is a reminder that the region is far from stable. Tuesday’s attack echoed another raid by militants in August on Tsentoroi, Mr. Kadyrov’s home village. More than a dozen people were killed in that attack, including several civilians, according to Russian news media reports.

A resurgence of such high-profile attacks, which have grown rarer in Chechnya in recent years, could pose a challenge to Mr. Kadyrov, whose hold on power depends largely on his ability to keep such violence at bay. Russian leaders have practically granted Mr. Kadyrov carte blanche to conduct counterinsurgency operations in Chechnya, giving him tacit approval, human rights groups say, to wage a campaign of kidnapping, torture and murder against suspected insurgents and critics in an effort to restore stability.

Critics of the strategy have blamed the heavy-handed tactics for further fueling the insurgency, which has spread from Chechnya in recent years to other regions of the North Caucasus and beyond. “Lately the separatist militants have launched a number of attacks aimed at humiliating Kadyrov and discrediting his buoyant assurances to the Kremlin that he maintains tight control over the region,” analyst Lilit Gevorgyan from IHS Global Insight said in a research note. (Reuters) Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst at the Yeltsin Foundation in Moscow, said: “The bet on Kadyrov, who promised to place everything under control, proved wrong… The potential of this insurgency is immense.” (Reuters)

The standard of living in the southwestern republic is poor compared with the rest of Russia. Unemployment is rampant and infant mortality is high. In addition, the Chechen population of about 1 million is mostly made up of Sunni Muslims, who maintain a distinctly different cultural and linguistic identity from Russian Othordox Christians. Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, has acknowledged that counterinsurgency tactics have failed to address the poverty and unemployment that have contributed to the lasting strength of the militants there. He has ordered local officials to concentrate on social welfare programs and job creation in addition to hard security measures.

But still the violence has continued. Just last month, a car bomb killed at least 16 people and injured over 100 at a crowded market in North Ossetia, a region in the North Caucasus where such violence is relatively rare. And militants from Chechnya and Dagestan, a neighbouring region, claimed responsibility for coordinated suicide bombings that killed 40 people in the Moscow subway in March. Chechen rebels also were accused of downing two Russian airplanes in 2004. And they took over a school in Beslan in the North Ossetia region in the same year. When the siege ended, more than 330 people had died – half of them children. In 2002, suicide bombers driving two trucks carrying an estimated 1 ton of explosives rammed the gates of another government building in Grozny, killing 72 people and wounding 310. Also in 2002, Chechen rebels held 700 audience-members hostage in a Moscow theatre. A Russian effort to free them resulted in the deaths of 120 hostages.

The conflict dates back nearly 20 years, with Chechens having laid claim to land in the Caucasus Mountains region. Thousands have been killed and 500,000 Chechen people have been displaced from the fighting. In recent years, the insurgency has moved to the east and the west – to the republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia, where rebels are fighting troops to destabilize the region.


Intense Typhoon Rails Against the Philippines

With memories of last year’s killer typhoons still fresh, Typhoon Megi roared across the Philippines on Monday, ripping off roofs and cutting off electricity. Megi is the 10th typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, and at least three people died in what the national Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council is billing as the strongest storm of the year. Megi was registered as a category 5 super typhoon.

Typhoon Megi made landfall in Isabela province at 1125 local time (0325 GMT), destroying buildings and crops, cutting power and telecommunications. Trees swayed and relentless rains inundated roads. Storm chaser James Cabrera, who was in Luzon, said parts of the Philippines could see 300 to 500 millimeters (12 to 20 inches) of rain. In six hours from 8 a.m. (0000 GMT), the city of Tuguegarao in Cagayan had 2.2 inches of rain, while Baguio City on the western side of Luzon had 28 mm, the weather bureau said. Megi whipped up huge waves in Luzon – forecasters had said they might be greater than 14m (46 ft). Local media said the rain meant there was near-zero visibility and that the wind was so powerful people could barely walk outside. Ships were told to stay in port, and domestic and international flights were cancelled.

The cyclone’s peak wind speeds have decreased in the past several hours, as the system moved over the Sierra Madre mountains, but it still packed sustained winds of 175 kph (109 mph) with gusts up to 212 kph (132 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. This is down from peak sustained winds of 212 kph, with gusts up to 259 (161 mph), over the weekend. “Unfortunately, this is a part of the world where the infrastructure is quite fragile, the power grid is quite fragile and a lot of people live in quite basic houses,” James Reynolds, a storm chaser who is on Luzon, told CNN on Monday. A “state of calamity” was declared in Isabela. (BBC) More than 4,150 people took shelter in school buildings, town halls and churches as the typhoon blew over Isabella, officials said. Many others fled to higher ground after warnings of flash floods and landslides. Television footage showed uprooted trees lying on roads, and metal and thatched roofing blown off houses. Up to 90% of communications in Isabela might have been knocked out, officials said. On the southern Chinese island of Hainan, the rain prompted more than a 100,000 people to leave their homes over the weekend.

More than a dozen people are already missing in central Vietnam after floodwaters swept away a bus. At least 20 others are known to have been killed in floods as heavy rain pounded the region. “People are exhausted,” Vietnamese disaster official Nguyen Ngoc Giai said by telephone from the Quang Binh province. “Many people have not even returned to their flooded homes from previous flooding, while many others who returned home several days ago were forced to be evacuated again.” (CBC)

Thailand also reported flooding that paralyzed parts of the country, submerging thousands of homes and vehicles and halting train service. No casualties were reported, but nearly 100 elephants were evacuated from a popular tourist attraction north of the capital.

Emergency workers pulled the body of Vicente Decena, 53, from a bloated river, after just having rescued his water buffalo. Decena slipped and fell into the river and drowned in Cagayan province. A tree fell on the house of Aileen Respicio, 20, killing her and injuring her child in Kalinga province. A security guard died after being struck by a tree in Baguio, in Benguet province. Five others were injured elsewhere, the disaster council reported. At a news conference in Manila, the director of the national disaster agency expressed sadness over the deaths. “The governor of Isabela declared a state of calamity, so there could be massive damage and destruction there,” Benito Ramos said. “Power has been cut and crops about to be harvested could have been destroyed. We have no actual reports because we’re waiting for the weather to clear up to make an assessment.” (BBC) Bracing for the typhoon, Ramos said, was like “preparing for war.” (CBC)

“We are marooned inside our home. We cannot go out. The winds and rain are very strong. Many trees are being uprooted or snapped in half,” Ernesto Macadangdang of Burgos, Isabela, told local radio. (BBC)

Thousands of military reservists and volunteers are on standby to assist those affected, along with several helicopters, Mr. Ramos said. Trucks, rescue boats and food packs were also pre-positioned near vulnerable areas. “If you have a landslide, and people have not evacuated on the ground, it can cost thousands of lives,” said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippines Red Cross. “That’s why we are focusing on the whole operation of the government and the Red Cross and other agencies – including local governments and the military – are all focused on trying to make sure minimal lives are lost in this typhoon,” he said. (CBC) In some areas, emergency crews were relying on two-way radios to communicate because the storm had knocked out phone and internet service, Manila-based freelance reporter Dean Bernardo said.

Correspondents say the Philippines is the world’s biggest rice importer, and damage from the typhoon could se it buy more than had been expected for 2011, which could push up the price. Cagayan Governor Alvaro Antonio said the wind was fierce but blew high from the ground, sparing many rice fields ready for harvesting. Andrew Villacorta, regional executive director in the agriculture department, said the Cagayan valley accounted for 12 percent of national rice output, or about 1 million tons of unmilled rice. He said just over one third of the crop had been harvested, while about 90 percent of the corn crop had been harvested.

Last year, the country lost 1.3 million tons of paddy rice following three strong typhoons in September and October, prompting it to go to the market early to boost its stocks. “This could bring destruction to our crops,” Val Perdido, a regional farm official, told reporters. It’s the peak of harvest season now. More than 230,000 hectares of rice fields are stills in their reproductive and maturing stages.” (New York Times) Agricultural production makes up a fifth of the Southeast Asian country’s GDP.

Megi, also known as Typhoon Juan, is expected to pick up steam again as it heads over the South China Sea later Monday. Current forecasts from the Joint Typhoon Center show the storm heading toward the southeastern China coast, southeast of Hong Kong, and eventually to Vietnam. Even as it weakened, Megi continued to pose a serious threat. “Thousands of homes were evacuated and even though the storm is weakening, it will continue to bring flooding rains and mudslides as it tracks west across land,” said CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. Weather forecasts said the capital is expected to be spared a direct hit this time, although the lowest weather alert was in effect Monday with preschools closed.

In July, President Benigno Aquino sacked the head of the weather bureau after he failed to predict a typhoon which unexpectedly changed course and hit Manila and its outlying provinces, killing more than 100 people. “We have learned our lesson from the grim experiences we had during typhoons Ondoy [known internationally as Ketsana] and Pepeng [Parma],” House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said, according to the Philippine News Agency. “We must all cooperate because nature’s wrath exempts no one.” (CNN) A year ago, tens of thousands of people were in evacuation centers as four consecutive typhoons drenched the Philippines. About 500 people were reported dead. Megi is the strongest storm the Philippines have faced since 2006, when 1,000 people were killed by mudslides triggered by Typhoon Durian.


33 Miners Rescued in Chile after 69 Days Underground

33 Miners have been trapped underground for more than two months in northern Chile. Today, they were lifted out of the shaft by a small, claustrophobic capsule raising them to the surface. The miners were greeted by President Sebastian Pinera and then taken to a triage centre for health checks. The operation ran smoother and quicker than anyone had ever anticipated. Health Minister Jaime Manalich had said that if working conditions stayed the same, the rescue should be completed in one-and-a-half days. The men have been trapped underground since August 5, when a rockfall caused a tunnel to collapse.

Doctors said the miners could suffer nausea and heart palpitations and were concerned about the risk of blood clotting and heart attacks. Aspirin had been sent down to the men earlier Tuesday to thin their blood. “The spinning they were worried about – where the men would get nauseous and have heart palpitations – that doesn’t seem to have happened,” Connie Watson of CBC News said from Chile.

The rescue operation began shortly after 2315 local time with a technical expert, Manuel Gonzalez, being lowered down the 524 metre rescue shaft. Mr. Gonzalez was then supposed to return to the surface. However, a live video feed from the refuge where the miners were gathered showed Mr. Avalos, 31, preparing to be winched up immediately, at 0010 local time. It took only 16 minutes to lift him out of the San Jose gold and copper mine.

A minute after the “Phoenix” capsule reached the top of the rescue shaft, Mr. Avalos stepped out and was greeted by his family, rescuers and the president and the First Lady, Cecillia Morel. Bystanders cheered and clapped, and then started cheering “Chile”.  He then flopped down on a white couch, exhausted.

“His seven-year-old son and his wife were waiting beside the rescue capsule,” Watson said.  “Before it got there the son was just sobbing and sobbing, and that had almost everyone else feeling the same.” Avalos often acted as a cameraman after officials sent cameras down a tunnel. “He looked in really good shape,” Watson said early Wednesday morning. “It was the start of what’s been a very successful process.”

His wife, Monica, said that she and her husband are religious, and she called the rescue a miracle. “This rescue was so difficult, it’s a grand miracle,” she said. “He has so much experience in this mine, and he was a leader, like a pastor with his sheep.” (Washington Post)

Mario Sepulveda Espina, 39, brought a bag of stones from the mine as souvenirs. He ran towards a group of rescuers and led them in song. Espina told a Chilean television station the ordeal was the hardest thing he has ever faced in his life but his faith got him through it. “I was with God, and I was with the devil,” he said through a translator. “But God won, I held onto God’s hand, the best hand, and at no point in time… did I doubt that God would get me out of there.” (CBC) Sepulveda cracked jokes and led the crowd in a cheer for Chile. As he was hauled away on a stretcher for medical evaluation, he asked his wife, “How’s the dog?” (CNN) Later, sitting beside family members, Sepulveda pushed for better work conditions in Chile’s mines, but also said he wants to keep working. “Things can’t stay the way they’ve been,” he said. “Many changes must be made.” (CNN)

“We always knew that we would be rescued,” Sepulveda said shortly after he emerged. “We never lost faith.” After he stepped out of the capsule, the ebullient Sepulveda led those gathered at the surface in a rousing cheer, earning him the nickname “Super Mario” in Chilean newspapers.

Juan Ilianes, 51, a former soldier who urged his fellow miners to be disciplined and organized while trapped.

The only non-Chilean was Bolivian Carlos Mamani, 23. Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke to Mr. Mamani at the triage centre. His family back home was restrained in their emotions for much of the morning while watching the rescue on TV. But they jumped up and clapped when they saw him kneel on the ground.

“I would like to thank the Chilean people, thank you very much for rescuing our brother, Carlos Mamami,” Mr. Morales said. “Bolivia will never forget, this is a historical moment, and this unites us more every day. These events are fostering greater trust between Bolivia and Chile.” (New York Times)

Jimmy Sanchez, 19, was the youngest miner. He had only been working at the mine for five months and had been showing signs of anxiety. Sanchez works as an environmental assistant, and is the father of a four-month-old daughter. He says that thinking about her daughter helped him get through the ordeal. Sanchez was not only afraid of the dark but also claustrophobic.

Osman Aray, 30, had a hugely emotional reunion with his wife.

Jose Ojeda, 46, whose scribbled note – which read “All 33 of us are safe in the shelter” – informed the world the miners were still alive, 17 days after the rockfall that trapped them.

Claudio Yanez, 34, was met by his partner of 11 years, Christina Nunez. During the ordeal, they had agreed to marry.

Mario Gomez, 63, was the oldest miner, who sent up a letter shortly after the miners were found to be alive, expressing his love for his family and saying that the mining company “has got to modernize.” (BBC News) Gomez had worked as a miner since he was 12 years old. He was said to have been the spiritual leader inside the mine. Gomez had contracted lung disease during his career and lost three fingers in a previous mining accident. He had planned to retire but went back down in the mine August 5 to test drive a new truck. Gomez, a man who used to tell his wife to quit bugging him to say daily prayers, dropped to his knees to praise God. At that moment, she knew how lucky she was to have him returned to her. To say there were 33 trapped in the mine is wrong, his wife said. There were 33 men – and God.

Alex Vega, 31, was met by his wife Jessica Saigado, who said earlier that she had eased his fears over debts by telling him that she had cleared them.

Jorge Gallieguillos, 36, said the journey to the surface was very smooth; “The only thing I wanted was to reach the top,” he told President Pinera at the triage centre. (BBC)

Edison Pena, 34, who became known as “the runner” because he ran up to 5 km a day through the mine tunnels to keep himself fit, even in the 30-35C heat. An Elvis fanatic, who led the trapped miners in sing-alongs, looked fit and exuberant. He waved and shook hands and hugged colleagues, loved ones and dignitaries. “Thank God we’re alive,” Mr. Pena said. “I know now why we’re alive.” (New York Times)

Carlos Barrios, 27, reached the surface shortly before 1000 local time. Barrios was a part-time miner and part-time taxi driver. On the day of the collapse, Barrios did not want to go to work because he had a premonition of the disaster, with dreams of rocks falling, according to family members.

Victor Zamora, 33, was not a miner, but a driver who had gone underground to repair a vehicle and was trapped by the rockfall.

Victor Segovia, 48, was welcomed “back to life” by President Pinera.

Daniel Herrera, 27, was embraced by his crying mother as he freed himself from the safety harness. When he reached the surface, Herrera removed his helmet, but left on the sunglasses that the miners were wearing to protect their eyes from the sun they haven’t seen in 69 days. He waved at the rescue crew and embraced his family members before being placed on a stretcher and whisked away to the medical triage.

Esteban Rojas, 44, was rescued at 1349 Eastern Time. He has been married with his partner for 25 years; they have 3 children and two grandchildren, but they never got married in a church. While trapped in the mine, he asked his wife to renew their vows in a real church ceremony. “I’ve tried to hint at it many times but it never happened… He said that he would ask me when the time was best.” (Jessica Gagnez, Esteban’s wife)

Pablo Rojas, 45, is Esteban’s younger relative who had been working at the mine for less than six months. He has been married for 21 years and has one son. While in the mine, Pablo presented the national flag that was signed by the miners to the president. When Pablo surfaced from the mine, his son could no longer wait and went over to tap his shoulder as if to say “I’m here.”

Dario Segovia, 48, is a drill operator and carrier-pigeon handler who comes from a family of miners. His father, who first took him down to the mines when he was 8 years old, was also once stuck in a mine for a week. His sister Maria led prayers at Camp Hope while he was underground. She was also the one who family members went to for information. When Segovia surfaced, Maria took a picture of the capsule before greeting her brother. August 5 was not even his shift; he had taken overtime hours and he wasn’t even scheduled to work in the mine that day. “The mine was weeping a lot,” he told his sister from underground, and that’s the word that miners use when there are fallen rocks. (CBC News)

Yonni Barrios, 50, was known as “Dr. House” to the other miners – he has first aid training and was taking blood samples and administrating drugs to the other miners. His mistress greeted him when he surfaced to the ground. His wife had said that she would not be at the surfacing. While trapped, his wife had learned that he has a mistress during this ordeal. “Barrios is my husband and he loves me; I am his beloved wife. This woman has no legitimacy.” (Barrios’ wife, CBC News) There had been harsh words from the media to this man saying, “Maybe it would be better if he stayed down there.” Barrios and his mistresses’ greeting was an emotional one; he appeared nervous when he first saw her, but she immediately wrapped her arms around him without hesitation. He had been working in the mines since he was 16 years old and went to nursing in the 1990’s.

Samuel Avalos, 43, is a father of three. He was assigned to monitor air quality and gas levels and sent the reports to the surface. Avalos had only been working in the mine for five months. As Avalos surfaced with smiles and laughter he greeted his wife and the president, who returned shortly before Avalos surfaced. He had been working as a street vendor before finding work in the mine five months before the collapse.

Carlos Bugueno, 27, oversees supplied packaged. He was trapped with his childhood friend, Pedro Cortez, who will be rescued third from last.

Jose Henriquez, 54, was a drill master. He has worked in the mines for 33 years. Before the explosion, he warned that something would be wrong with the mine. He was a spiritual man who led daily prayers and also loved music, playing the accordion and the guitar. He has been married for 33 years.

Renan Avalos, 29, the brother of the first man who made it out alive. He was the cameraman for a lot of the process in the mine, taping what the miners were seeing while they were down there.

Claudio Acuna, 56, was the 27th miner to be rescued from the mine.

Franklin Lobos, 53, a retired professional soccer player, kicked a occer ball given to him after he emerged from the capsule.

Juan Aguilar was the 29 miner to be rescued from the mine.

Raul Buston, 40, endured the earthquake earlier this year, where he worked at the Navy ship yards which was destroyed by the tsunami wave that hit the port there. The port was literally destroyed, as well as the ship yards. Bustos decided to quit the navy ship yards and decided to work in the mine. He was a hydraulic mechanic – he was working with one of the hydraulic systems when the shaft collapsed.

Pedro Cortez, 24, was the 31st to be rescued from the mine.

Ariel Ticona, 29, reunited with his wife at 2036 ET. His third daughter was born while he was down in the mine. He was able to watch a video in the mine of his daughter being born. This was the first birth that he could witness.

The last to come out was Luis Alberto Urzua, 54. Like the captain of a sinking ship, the shift supervisor volunteered to stay behind until all his men were safe. Speaking by the phone from the mine Tuesday morning, Urzua reflected on the saga, carefully choosing his words to describe what it was like for such a large group to be imprisoned in such tight quarters for so long. “This was a group with different personalities and manners of being,” he said. “We have had a stage here in our lives that we never planned for. I hope to never live again like this, but that’s the life of a miner.” (Washington Post)

Taking charge after the collapse, Urzua rationed food, giving each miner one spoonful of tuna every 48 hours during their first 17 days trapped underground. He also kept order, something that NASA specialists who have been monitoring the crisis say was vital to keeping up morale and preventing discord.

As Urzua emerged from the mine, crowds waited with applause and anticipation as the world watched on the edge of their seats. As the capsule approached, it was like a New Years Eve countdown as the cheers continued. Almost twenty-two hours to the minute when the rescue mission started, Luis Urzua emerged from the capsule. Whistles, sirens, applause and horns welcomed Urzua as he was draped with a Chilean flag signed by all of the miners.

“We are a family, and the world became a family because of this operation,” the President told Urzua. (CTV News) Urzua urged to the President that things like this should not happen again. The President expressed his pride for Urzua and his crew, and all of the optimism that they felt.

The group gathered joined in the singing of the Chilean national anthem while the flag was raised before them.

The miners are being closely monitored from the moment they step in the capsule. They had been given a high-protein liquid diet donated by NASA, designed to keep them from vomiting as the capsule rotates. A video camera is in the capsule is used to monitor for panic attacks. The miner uses an oxygen mask and has two-way voice communication.

The men also wear sweaters because of the shift in climate from about 30 C underground to near freezing on the surface after nightfall.

After medical checks and visits with family members selected by the miners, the men will be flown to hospital in Copiapo, a 10-minute ride away. Two hospital floors were prepared for giving the miners physical and psychological exams, and the men will be kept under observation in a ward as dark as a movie theatre.

Most of the men are in great condition health-wise. One of them has pneumonia, and seven men will undergo dental surgery because of serious infections. Mario Gomez, who is suffering from pneumonia, will undergo special health care in the next few days.

I would like to close with a Scripture that has been going through my head throughout the entire day. Many of the miner’s stories reflect this verse and I wanted to leave you with this final verse of hope and encouragement. God really does still do miracles today, and he takes care of his children even when it seems like we are in the deepest point in our lives. Psalm 40:2 says, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Praise be to God!