NAPA, United States, Oct 10, (Agencies): More than a dozen fast-moving wildfires tearing through California’s wine country have killed at least 10 people, destroying hundreds of homes, authorities said Monday. Fanned by winds of over 50 miles (80 kms) an hour, the blazes have forced more than 20,000 people to evacuate in the country’s heaviest populated state since they began Sunday night.
California’s fire service said about 73,000 acres (30,000 hectares) have been ravaged by the major infernos. “The Sheriff’s Office confirms seven fire-related deaths from the Sonoma Co fires. Our condolences to their friends and families,” tweeted the sheriff of Sonoma County in the state’s north. The previous toll had stood at three.
At least 1,500 buildings were destroyed as the state declared an emergency in three counties ravaged by intense fires, mostly in its famous wine-producing regions. Fourteen major fires are burning in total. Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties are covered by Governor Jerry Brown’s order. The counties are north of San Francisco Bay.
An AFP correspondent in the Santa Rosa area witnessed multiple explosions from gas lines or gas tanks, in addition to charred out homes and a winery. Fire trucks were out in force in that area, he said. About 410 firefighters are working on blazes in Mendocino, a sheriff’s spokesman in that county told the CBS news network, adding that multiple fatalities were expected.
Another fire in Anaheim has surged to char 800 hectares and at least 200 fire fighters scrambled to try to contain it. Dozens of shelters were opened in schools and churches. Even livestock had shelter areas set up on some fair grounds. “We’re going to have to start over completely,” Dreama Goldberg, who fl ed her home — now a heap of ashes — at eight months pregnant, told NBC. Jesus Torres told CBS he barely had time to grab a few things and run from his home. “We could see the sky was getting red: we did not know it was fire until the last second because there was just smoke everywhere,” he said.
The Hilton Hotel in Santa Rosa said on Facebook that its staff and guests were evacuated safely. “The wildfires in Santa Rosa, California and the surrounding areas have forced the evacuation and temporary closure of Hilton Sonoma Wine Country,” it said on Facebook. “All guests and associates of the Hotel have been safely evacuated and are not able to return until further notice. It is anticipated that the Hotel has sustained significant damage.” Pacific Gas & Electric said more than 196,000 customers had initially lost elecricity although half had had their power restored.
“As of 3.00 pm (2200 GMT), we have about 99,000 customers out of power throughout our service area, with the majority of them in Sonoma and Napa counties,” it said. Coffey Park, a sprawling Santa Rosa neighborhood with dozens of homes, was also charred in the strong winds and low humidity fire experts said were more like fires in southern California. Cheri Sharp told Oregon-based TV news channel KOBI her home of 26 years in Santa Rosa was among those destroyed. “All our pictures are gone. Everything, everything is gone. We’ve got a fire pit. It’s pretty awful,” she said.
Around 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons are held by the United States (US) and Russia, with the remainder in the hands of another seven countries including North Korea, that form a small global nuclear club.
ICAN, the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its decade-long campaign to ban the estimated 15,000 atomic weapons around the world.
Around 4,000 are currently deployed and ready to be used, according to figures from the Federation of American Scientists.
The US is the only country that has ever used a nuclear weapon, on August 6 and 9, 1945, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where some 140,000 and 70,000 people died respectively.
Since 1970, when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) entered into force, five declared nuclear powers — the US, Russia, France, Britain and China — agreed not to sell or transfer their weapons technology to other countries.
Other signatories of the treaty, (there are 191 in total) also agreed not to pursue a nuclear weapons programme.
Some countries abandoned their nuclear ambitions around the time of the treaty, including Sweden (1968) and Switzerland (1969), while others have since dropped their programmes such as South Africa (1991) and ex-Soviet republics.
Despite the NPT, four other countries managed to develop their own nuclear capability: India, Pakistan and Israel, which never signed the treaty, and most recently North Korea, which pulled out of the treaty in 2003.
A number of scientists are suspected of taking part in the illicit trade of nuclear secrets, including Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb who admitted to being in contact with Iran, Libya and North Korea in 2004.
Iran was suspected of trying to develop its own nuclear weapons capability over the last two decades, which top Nobel world powers feared would lead to an atomic arms race in the Middle East.
In 2015, Tehran signed a deal agreeing to inspections and promising that it would use nuclear technology only for energy or other civilian purposes in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
US President Donald Trump is set to decide by October 15 whether to stick with the deal, which his Western allies insist is the only way of containing the threat. He once called it “the worst deal ever”.
ANKARA: US consulates in Turkey indefinitely halted all non-immigrant visa services on Sunday, the American embassy said, after one of the mission’s Turkish staffers was arrested in the latest dispute between the Nato allies.
The embassy said “recent events” had forced the US government to reassess Turkey’s “commitment” to the security of US mission services and personnel in the country.
In order to minimise the number of visitors while the assessment is carried out, “effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” it said.
Non-immigrant visas are issued to all those travelling to the United States for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study. Visa services are only those seeking to live in the US permanently.
Beyond mentioning “recent events”, the statement made no explicit mention of the the arrest by Turkish authorities of a local Turkish staffer working at the US consulate in Istanbul.
The employee was remanded in custody by an Istanbul court late Wednesday on accusations of links to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The man has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government.
The embassy on Thursday said it was “deeply disturbed” over the arrest and rejected the allegations as “wholly without merit”.
The statement also condemned leaks in the local press which it said came from Turkish government sources that were “seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.”
Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2017
KUWAIT CITY, Oct 7, (KUNA): Living up to its UN-bestowed status as an International Humanitarian Center, the State of Kuwait continued to provide aid to people in Lebanon and Syria throughout the week. In Lebanon, the International Center for Quality Education (ICQE), better known as the “Kuwait Charity Schools,” on Friday offered education to about 70,000 Syrian refugees, the center’s deputy chairman Khalil Al-Hamadi said.
The number of Syrian children in the schools have been gradually on the rise since the humanitarian project was launched five years ago. They hit 13,000 last year in 27 schools in Northern Lebanon, Al- Hamadi told KUNA on the sidelines of the start of the academic year in some of the facilities under supervision of the ICQE. This year, the center aims to provide education to 20,000 pupils, he said, voicing gratitude to the charity and relief organizations and other benefactors in Kuwait and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for their support to the project over the years. Al-Hamadi also thanked members of the Insani (Humanitarian) Team which comprises volunteers from Kuwait and the GCC. They have managed to secure fi- nancing and support to schools in five areas in Northern Lebanon this year, he said.
For his part, administrative director of the ICQE in Lebanon, Mahmoud Sweyed, said the Kuwaiti charity schools provide education services through specialized educators. In addition, the center offers psychological and social support to the pupils, after the horrible conditions they witnessed due to the war at home, he added. In Tripoli, northern Lebanon, several schools being run by Kuwaiti charities began their semester, according to a Kuwaiti diplomat.
Speaking to KUNA on Thursday, the diplomat in charge of humanitarian affairs at Kuwait’s embassy in Beirut Mohammad Al- Khaldi said that his country was keen on aiding the needy in Lebanon. He affirmed that Kuwaiti charities were willing to seek all venues of relief aid including the education of the less fortunate. The diplomat thanked charitable Kuwaiti entities for their relentless efforts to help those seeking education, stressing that this was reflective of Kuwait’s strong desire to aid people in Lebanon and worldwide. On his part, head of the Kuwaiti team for humanitarian initiatives Anan Al-Subihi emphasized that most of those seeking education at Kuwaiti operated schools were of the Syrian refugee populace.
He indicated that the Kuwaiti team’s main focus was to provide educational and mental support to child refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, and also within some regions in Syria. Meanwhile, member of the Kuwaiti International Islamic Charitable Organization’s (IICO) quality education center Mustafa Alloush said that several schools in the Tripoli area were able to begin the school year due to the efforts of Kuwaiti charitable organizations.
Hundreds of refugees are now able to pursue education thanks to the generous Kuwaiti efforts, he affirmed. Furthermore, the Kuwaiti Al- Najat Charity held on Thursday tests for Syrian children to assess their intellectual and educational levels prior to registration in private schools.
These quizzes aim to help Syrian children, who failed to get education over the past years, enroll in private schools, said Dr Abdulmohsen Al-Hwailah, the assistant undersecretary for private education at the Ministry of Education. Dr Al-Hwailah was speaking during a tour at the exam venues, schools of Al-Najat Charity, involving 1,250 Syrian boys and girls. Such help for the Syrian children is in line with guidelines of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, “the top example for us as individuals and institutions particularly after His Highness has been designated as Humanitarian Leader,” said Dr Al-Hwailah.
This program, launched two years ago, aims at aiding the Syrian students, who have no residency papers, or whose parents are in financial difficulty or who lack any papers proving that they have gotten education in their homeland, Syria. These pupils receive official certifications with qualification classes, enabling them to register in private schools. Al-Najat Charity, a Kuwaiti public welfare association, builds schools, gives assistance to students, citizens and foreigners, who cannot afford school fees.
WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday Washington would try “one more time” to work with Islamabad on the Afghanistan front before President Donald Trump turned to options to address Pakistan’s alleged support for militant groups.
“We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the President is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary,” the defence secretary said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
According to sources in Washington, the likely Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-Nato ally.
In a separate Senate hearing on Tuesday, the top US military officer said he believed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had ties to militant groups.
“It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups,” General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017
Google on Monday announced new steps to help struggling news organisations, including an end to a longstanding “first click free” policy to generate fresh revenues for publishers hurt by the shift from print to digital.
The moves come amid mounting criticism that online platforms are siphoning off the majority of revenues as more readers turn to digital platforms for news.
“I truly believe that Google and news publishers actually share a common cause,” said Google vice president Philipp Schindler. “Our users truly value high-quality journalism.”
Google announced a series of measures, the most significant of which would be to replace the decade-old policy of requiring news organisations to provide one article discovered in a news search without subscribing, a standard known as “first click free.”
This will be replaced by a “flexible sampling” model that will allow publishers to require a subscription at any time they choose.
“We realise that one size does not fit all,” said Richard Gingras, Google's vice president for news.
This will allow news organisations to decide whether to show articles at no cost or to implement a “paywall” for some or all content.
Gingras said the new policy, effective on Monday, will be in place worldwide.
He said it was not clear how many publishers would start implementing an immediate paywall as a result.
“The reaction to our efforts has been positive,” he told a conference call announcing the new policy.
“This is not a silver bullet to the subscription market. It is a very competitive market for information. And people buy subscriptions when they have a perception of value.”
Google said it is recommending a “metering” system allowing 10 free articles per month as the best way to encourage subscriptions.
News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson, whose company operates the Wall Street Journal and newspapers in Britain and Australia, welcomed Google's announcement.
“If the change is properly introduced, the impact will be profoundly positive for journalists everywhere and for the cause of informed societies,” said a statement from Thomson, a fierce critic of the prior Google policy.
Thomson and others had complained that “first click free” penalised news organisations that declined to participate by demoting their articles in Google searches.
“The felicitous demise of First Click Free (Second Click Fatal) is an important first step in recognising the value of legitimate journalism and provenance on the Internet,” he said.
The California tech giant also said it would work with publishers to make subscriptions easier, including allowing readers to pay with their Google or Android account to avoid a cumbersome registration process.
“We think we can get it down to one click, that would be superb,” Gingras said.
He explained people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, but that a “sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off. That's not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue.”
Google would share data with the news organisations to enable them to keep up the customer relationship, he added.
“We're not looking to own the customer,” he said. “We will provide the name of the user, the email and if necessary, the address.”
Gingras said Google is also exploring ways “to use machine learning to help publishers recognise potential subscribers,” employing the internet giant's technology to help news organisations.
He added that Google was not implementing the changes to generate revenues for itself, but that some financial details had not been worked out.
Google does not intend to take a slice of subscription revenues, he noted.
“Our intent is to be as generous as possible,” he said.
Research firm eMarketer estimates that Google and Facebook will take in 63 per cent of digital advertising revenues in 2017, making it harder for news organisations to compete online.
Facebook is widely believed to be working on a similar effort to help news organisations drive more subscriptions.
In 2015 Google created a “Digital News Initiative” in Europe which provides funding for innovative journalism projects.
MARSEILLE, Oct 1, (AFP): A suspected Islamist knifeman killed two women at the main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille on Sunday before being shot dead by soldiers on patrol, local officials and police said. One of the victims had her throat slit by the assailant, a man with a criminal record believed to be in his 30s who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) at the start of his rampage.
Soldiers serving in a special force known as Sentinelle set up to guard vulnerable areas in terror-hit France responded to the stabbings and shot dead the attacker, whose identity remains unknown. “I was on the esplanade just in front of the station,” Melanie Petit, an 18-year-old student, told AFP. “I heard someone shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ and I saw a man who seemed to be dressed all in black.” Heavily armed police sealed off and evacuated the ornate rail terminus in the bustling heart of France’s second-biggest city, stopping all train traffic on some of the country’s busiest lines.
The latest deaths came with France still on high alert and under a state of emergency following a string of attacks in recent years by extremists linked to the Islamic State group or al-Qaeda. Since 2015, a total of 239 people have been killed in France by jihadists, according to an AFP count before Sunday’s incident.
After the lunchtime attack, anti-terror prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into “killings linked to a terrorist organisation” and the “attempted killing of a public official”. Travellers around the station described “controlled panic” as security forces evacuated passengers and looked for possible accomplices, while another witness said white sheets were placed over the bodies of the victims.
“There were police everywhere,” said Francois Jacquel, a retired traveller who was in a waiting room. The incident came only days after the Islamic State group released a recording of what it said was its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging his followers to strike their enemies in the West. France has deployed troops and its air force to the Middle East and is a leading partner in the US-led international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, where the jihadists are being driven back.
The country has suffered several major terror attacks since 2015, including on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January of that year followed by an assault on Paris bars and the Bataclan concert hall by gunmen 10 months later. In Nice in July 2016, 86 people were killed when an extremist drove a truck into crowds after a fireworks display on Bastille Day. But there have also been numerous smaller attacks on police officers, soldiers or members of the public since then, sometimes carried out by people with severe psychological problems.
Since November 2015, the country has been in a state of emergency which gives the government and security forces greater powers to combat extremists and launch anti-terror raids. New centrist President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to end the state of emergency with a new and controversial security law that will make many of the provisions of the emergency regime permanent.
Despite criticism from rights groups that the law reduces judicial oversight over the actions of the police, the lower house of parliament is set to vote on a first draft of the legislation on Tuesday. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb posted on Twitter that he would travel to Marseille on Sunday, while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe sent his condolences and said “we will not lower our guard.” In August, a man driving a van killed one person and seriously injured another after ploughing into a bus stop in Marseille, raising fears of another terror incident. But doctors said later that the man had severe mental problems and discounted any terror link.
The soldiers who shot the knifeman on Sunday were part of the Operation Sentinelle force composed of 7,000 troops who guard high-risk areas such as transport hubs, tourist sites and religious buildings