EU To Cut Russian Gas Use As Missiles Strike Ukraine

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Union agreed to reduce gas consumption to break its dependence on Russia Tuesday, as missile strikes on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast cast doubt on a grain export deal.

The effort to help Germany wean itself off Russian gas for the winter came as Turkey announced a meeting in Russia next week between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan wants Turkey — on good terms with both Moscow and Kyiv — at the centre of diplomatic efforts to halt the five-month war, just as the EU took another big step to cut ties to Moscow.

The EU gas use cut, approved by energy ministers in Brussels, was hailed as an effective response to Russia’s manipulation of its energy wealth as an economic weapon.

The plan nominally commits EU countries to reduce their gas use by 15 percent during the winter, although exceptions were carved out for some countries and Hungary rejected the deal as “useless”.

“We have made a huge step towards securing gas supplies for our citizens and economies for the upcoming winter,” said Czech industry minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

“I know the decision was not easy, but I think at the end, everybody understands that this sacrifice is necessary,” he added.

Hungary was the only country to oppose the plan, which passed on a majority vote, further isolating Budapest as the only member state reluctant to go further against Russia.

“This is an unjustifiable, useless, unenforceable and harmful proposal that completely ignores national interests,” said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

The deal “serves purely communication purposes, and aims to save the credibility of some Western European politicians”, he added.

– German ‘mistake’ –

Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, is hugely dependent on Russian gas. Berlin takes a major share of the 40 percent of EU gas imports that came from Russia last year.

“It is true that Germany, with its dependence on Russian gas, has made a strategic mistake but our government is working… to correct this,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said.

The plan asks member states to voluntarily reduce gas use by 15 percent — based on a five-year average for the months in question — starting next month and over the subsequent winter through March.

The target will be adapted to the situation of each country, taking into account their level of stocks and whether or not they have pipelines to share gas.

Exceptions were given for island states like Ireland, Cyprus and Malta and to Spain or Portugal, which have limited links to the interconnected gas supply grid.

Baltic countries will be exempted if their electricity connections with Russia’s grid were to be cut.

In the final proposal, EU member countries also rewrote an earlier European Commission plan to give Brussels — rather than the member states — the power to impose gas use cuts in an emergency.

The regulation now foresees the possibility to trigger a “Union alert” that would make the target mandatory, but the decision would lie with member states, a statement said.

The EU deal landed a day after Gazprom said it is cutting daily gas deliveries intended for Europe to about 20 percent of capacity from Wednesday.

Gazprom claimed technical reasons for choking off supply, but EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson dismissed this claim.

“This is a politically motivated step and we have to be ready for that and exactly for that reason the pre-emptive reduction of our gas demand is a wise strategy,” she said.

The extent of Russia’s split with the West over Ukraine was also underlined by Moscow’s announcement that it would quit the International Space Station after 2024.

Until now space exploration was one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia, the United States and its allies had not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere.

The decision to leave the ISS programme “has been made”, Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov told Putin.

– ‘Difficult’ winter –

Meanwhile, fighting continued in Ukraine. Kyiv said Russian forces launched multiple missile strikes at targets on the Black Sea coast near the southern port city of Odessa and in Mykolaiv.

The attacks come days after Russian strikes hit Odessa called into question a breakthrough deal to resume exports of grain from Ukraine, that have been disrupted by Moscow’s invasion.

Rescuers were working on the ground near Odessa where “residential buildings” near the coast were hit in the strikes, Ukraine’s southern military command said on Facebook.

In the east, Kramatorsk’s mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko said he was worried about how tens of thousands of mostly elderly residents would cope in the coming months without any gas to keep them warm.

“This winter will be very difficult,” he said.

He said that Ukrainian forces would have to push the Russians back at least 20 kilometres (12 miles) to be able to make repairs to broken gas pipes.

He called for more long-range weapons from Western allies to help repel the enemy.

AFP

Russia Doing Better Than Expected Despite Sanctions – IMF

This file photo taken on January 26, 2022, shows the seal for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, DC. OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP

 

Despite damaging Western sanctions imposed on Moscow in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s economy appears to be weathering the storm better than expected as it benefits from high energy prices, the IMF said Tuesday.

The sanctions were meant to sever Russia from the global financial system and choke off funds available to Moscow to finance the war.

But the International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook upgraded Russia’s GDP estimate for this year by a remarkable 2.5 percentage points, although its economy is still expected to contract by six percent.

“That’s still a fairly sizable recession in Russia in 2022,” IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas told AFP in an interview.

A key reason that the downturn was not as bad as expected was that “the Russian central bank and the Russian policymakers have been able to stave off a banking panic or financial meltdown when the sanctions were first imposed,” he said.

Meanwhile, rising energy prices are “providing an enormous amount of revenues to the Russian economy.”

After starting the year below $80 a barrel, oil prices spiked to nearly $129 in March before easing back to under $105 on Tuesday for Brent, the key European benchmark, while natural gas prices are rising again and approaching their recent peak.

While major economies including the United States and China are slowing, the report said, “Russia’s economy is estimated to have contracted during the second quarter by less than previously projected, with crude oil and non-energy exports holding up better than expected.”

Meanwhile, despite the sanctions, Russia’s “domestic demand is also showing some resilience” due to government support.

But Gourinchas said “there is no rebound” ahead for Russia. “In fact,” the IMF is “revising down the Russian growth in 2023,” 1.2 points lower than the April forecast for a contraction of 3.5 percent.

The penalties already in place, as well as new ones announced by Europe, mean “the cumulative effect of the sanctions is also growing over time,” he said.

The report indicates Europe is facing the brunt of the fallout from sanctions given its reliance on Russia for energy. The situation could worsen dramatically if Moscow cuts off gas exports, and once the European Union imposes a ban on Russian oil delivered by sea starting next year.

AFP

Pope Apologizes For ‘Evil’ Of Indigenous Abuse In Canada

MASKWACIS, AB – JULY 25: Pope Francis gives remarks as he makes an apology for the treatment of First Nations children’s in Canada’s Residential School system, during his visit on July 25, 2022 in Maskwacis, Canada. Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP

 

Pope Francis on Monday apologized for the “evil” inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of Canada on the first day of a visit focused on addressing decades of abuse at Catholic-run residential schools.

The plea for forgiveness from the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics was met with applause by a crowd of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Maskwacis, in western Alberta province — some of whom were taken from their families as children in what has been branded a “cultural genocide.”

“I am sorry,” said the 85-year-old pontiff, who remained seated as he delivered his address at the site of one of the largest of Canada’s infamous residential schools — where some 150,000 Indigenous children were sent as part of a policy of forced assimilation.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” said the pope, citing “cultural destruction” and the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” of children over the course of decades.

Francis spoke of his “deep sense of pain and remorse” as he formally acknowledged that “many members of the Church” had cooperated in the abusive system.

As he spoke the emotion was palpable in Maskwacis, an Indigenous community south of provincial capital Edmonton that was the site of the Ermineskin residential school until it closed in 1975.

Several hundred people, many in traditional clothing, were in attendance, along with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, the country’s first Indigenous governor general.

Many lowered their eyes, wiped away tears or leaned on and hugged neighbors, and Indigenous leaders afterwards placed a traditional feathered headdress on the pope.

Counsellors were waiting near teepees set up to provide support to those who may need it, and earlier volunteers had distributed small paper bags for the “collection of tears.”

– ‘Cry love’ –

“The First Nation believes that if you cry, you cry love, you catch the tears on a piece of paper and put it back in this bag,” explained Andre Carrier of the Manitoba Metis Federation, before the pope spoke.

Volunteers will collect the bags and later they will be burned with a special prayer, “to return the tears of love to the creator,” he said.

From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada’s government sent about 150,000 children into 139 residential schools run by the Church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.

Many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

During a ceremony performed before the pope spoke in Maskwacis, Indigenous people carried a bright red 50-meter long banner on which the names — or sometimes only the nicknames — of all the children known to have died were written in white. There were 4,120 of them, officials said.

Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of the former schools, sending shockwaves throughout Canada — which has slowly begun to acknowledge this long, dark chapter in its history.

A delegation of Indigenous peoples traveled to the Vatican in April and met the pope — a precursor to Francis’ trip — after which he formally apologized.

But doing so again on Canadian soil was of huge significance to survivors and their families.

Later in the day, at 4:30 pm (2230 GMT) Francis will travel to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton, one of the city’s oldest churches, for a second speech to Indigenous communities.

– ‘Healing journey’ –

The flight to Edmonton was the longest since 2019 for Francis, who has been suffering from knee pain and was forced to use a wheelchair on the Canada trip.

The papal visit, though highly anticipated, is also a source of controversy for some.

“It means a lot to me” that he came, said Deborah Greyeyes, 71, a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, the largest Indigenous group in Canada.

“I think we have to forgive, too, at some point,” she told AFP. But “a lot of stuff was taken away from us.”

After a mass before tens of thousands of faithful in Edmonton on Tuesday, Francis will head northwest to an important pilgrimage site, the Lac Sainte Anne.

Following a July 27-29 visit to Quebec City, he will end his trip in Iqaluit, capital of the northern territory of Nunavut and home to the largest Inuit population in Canada, where he will meet again with former residential school students, before returning to Italy.

AFP

Ukraine Eyes First Grain Exports ‘This Week’

A farmer stands as he collects wheat near Mykolaiv, on July 21, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

 

Ukraine said Monday it expects to export its first grain shipments under a UN-backed deal to lift Russia’s blockade “this week”, days after missile strikes by the Kremlin threw the accord into doubt.

But while grain shipments seemed ready to resume for the first time since the Kremlin’s invasion five months ago, Russia’s natural gas giant Gazprom added to the geopolitical tensions by warning it would drastically cut deliveries to Europe again.

Kyiv and Moscow on Friday agreed a landmark plan to release millions of tonnes of wheat and other grain trapped in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in a move hailed as a major step to averting a global food crisis.

Less than 24 hours later Moscow struck the port in Odessa — one of three exit hubs designated in the agreement — sparking fury in Kyiv and heightening fears the Kremlin would not go through with the deal.

But despite the weekend attack, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Kyiv expected to see the agreement begin “working in the coming days”.

“We are preparing for everything to start this week,” said Kubrakov, who led Ukraine’s delegation at last week’s grain talks in Istanbul.

Ukrainian officials said the port of Chornomorsk in southwestern Ukraine would be the first to be opened and insisted on the importance of security following the strike on nearby Odessa.

Kubrakov said de-mining will take place “exclusively” in the shipping lanes required for grain exports, while Ukrainian ships will accompany the departing convoys that will transport not only grain but also fertiliser.

After speaking to Kubrakov by phone, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar welcomed Ukraine’s resolve to resume the shipments.

“It is important that the first ship starts sailing as soon as possible,” Akar said in a statement.

Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of agricultural products, but Moscow’s invasion has severely disrupted Ukrainian wheat exports as the fighting damaged harvests and left ports blocked and mined.

Russia’s naval blockade helped send global prices soaring and sparked fears of famine as it left up to 25 million tonnes of wheat and other grains stranded in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has estimated the value of grain stocks to be exported under the deal at around $10 billion.

– Kremlin’s shifting narrative –

The Kremlin insisted Monday that its strikes on Odessa “should not affect” the Turkish-brokered push to send the grain to world markets.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s cruise missiles hit “exclusively” military infrastructure and were “not connected with the agreement on the export of grain.”

Turkey, which helped broker the accord, said after the attack that it had received assurances from Moscow that Russian forces were not responsible.

Moscow then admitted that it had carried out the strikes, but claimed to have targeted a Ukrainian military vessel and arms delivered by Washington.

Russia has looked to shift the blame for the food crisis onto Western sanctions and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was visiting Africa on a tour aimed at bolstering Moscow’s ties in the face of growing isolation.

Lavrov, who is visiting Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo-Brazzaville, told his Egyptian counterpart on his first stop that Russia would meet grain orders.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak slammed the visit as a cynical ploy by Moscow after it had fuelled the food crisis.

“You arranged the artificial hunger and then come to cheer people up,” he said on Twitter, assuring that Ukrainian grain will reach its destinations.

“Whether Moscow wants or not, Ukrainian grain will reach the world.”

– Gazprom gas cut –

The deal for grain exports has done little to ease the geopolitical tensions between the West and Moscow over the invasion.

Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, unexpectedly announced it was cutting daily deliveries of gas to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to 33 million cubic metres a day — about 20 percent of the pipeline’s capacity — from Wednesday.

The company said it was halting the operation of one of the last two operating turbines due to the “technical condition of the engine”.

The government of Germany, which receives the gas directly by the undersea energy link, said there was “no technical reason” for Gazprom’s announcement.

Russia’s forces continue to press on with their grinding push across Ukraine’s southeast, where Kyiv’s forces are being boosted by fresh Western military aid shipments.

The Ukrainian presidency said Monday that a Russian strike trapped seven people under the rubble of a collapsed cultural centre in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Three were pulled out alive and the rescue operation was ongoing.

It said shelling continued across the entire front line and at least one person was killed in the town of Soledar.

In the south — where Kyiv has vowed a major counter-offensive to retake the strategic Kherson region — officials said Ukrainian forces stopped a Russian push in several villages.

Ukraine’s bid to oust the Kremlin’s forces has been bolstered by longer range Western weapons that have allowed Kyiv to target Russian supply lines deeper in occupied areas.

Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine had received the first of an expected 15 Gepard anti-aircraft systems and tens of thousands of shells from Germany in the latest foreign arms to arrive.

AFP

At Least 471 Dead, Hurt Or Missing In Haiti Gang Violence – UN

In this file photo taken on February 25, 2021 the United Nations logo is seen inside the United Nations in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 25, 2021 the United Nations logo is seen inside the United Nations in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP

 

At least 471 people were killed, injured or missing as a result of fierce clashes this month between rival gangs in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, the United Nations said Monday.

“Serious incidents of sexual violence against women and girls as well as boys being recruited by gangs have also been reported,” the United Nations said in a statement on the toll from violence between July 8 and 17 in the impoverished neighborhood of Cite Soleil.

It did not specify how many of those people were killed.

Some 3,000 people have fled their homes, among them hundreds of unaccompanied children, and at least 140 houses have been destroyed, the statement said.

“The humanitarian needs in Cite Soleil are immense and are growing due to poverty, lack of basic services, including security, and a recent spike in violence,” Ulrika Richardson, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, said in the statement.

While UN agencies are providing assistance in Cite Soleil, “a more sustainable and holistic approach needs to be found for the medium and longer-term development of this emblematic commune,” Richardson added.

Gangs that operate with widespread impunity have extended their reach beyond the slums of the Haitian capital, carrying out a wave of kidnappings.

At least 155 kidnappings took place in the month of June, compared to 118 in May, according to a report released by the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry has yet to comment on the outbreak of violence that ravaged Cite Soleil in early July.

Haiti is mired in a political crisis stemming from the 2016 elections, which was aggravated by the assassination of president Jovenel Moise at his home on July 7, 2021.

AFP

33 Dead As Kenya Bus Plunges Into River

Map of Kenya.

 

Thirty-three people were killed when a bus plunged into a river at a notorious accident blackspot in central Kenya, officials said Monday.

The accident occurred late Sunday when the bus was travelling from the town of Meru to the coastal city of Mombasa.

The bus plunged off a bridge about 40 metres (130 feet) into the Nithi River valley below.

Pictures published in local media showed the bus ripped apart after rolling down the steep slope, with reports saying wreckage and bodies were strewn in the water and on the riverbank.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) said in a statement on Twitter that 33 people had died and that it had halted the operations of the bus company involved, Modern Coast Express Ltd.

“A thorough multi-agency investigation into the crash and an evaluation of the operator’s safety operational standards is currently under way,” it added.

County commissioner Norbert Komora had told reporters earlier: “The search is still on and we are trying to retrieve the wreckage.

“Investigations are still going on to establish the cause of the accident”.

The number of people killed on Kenya’s roads has increased in recent years.

In the first half of 2022, 1,912 people were killed, up nine percent from 1,754 in the same period last year, according to NTSA figures.

Greece Battles Fierce Wildfires Amid Heatwave

Tourists enjoy the beach in Phalasarna, northwest of the Greek mediterranean island of Crete on July 20, 2022, while temperatures remain at normal for the season levels despite the heatwave in northern parts of Europe. (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Greece on Sunday battled three major wildfires across the country which forced hundreds to evacuate, as soaring temperatures raised fears of more blazes.

The country is in the grip of a heatwave that began on Saturday and is expected to last 10 days. Temperatures were set to rise to 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) in some regions.

Experts blame climate change for the soaring temperatures and warned that the worst is yet to come.

Fires raged in the north, east and south of Greece, including on the island of Lesbos.

Officials ordered the evacuation of around 200 people on Sunday afternoon from Vryssa village on Lesbos as flames crept closer, some 500 metres (1,600 feet) from houses, the deputy mayor of western Lesbos told Skai radio.

Elderly women carried plastic bags with only a few personal belongings as they boarded the first buses to leave the village.

Thick clouds of smoke were already engulfing the first houses of Vryssa.

Early in the afternoon, the village of Stavros was also evacuated.

The blaze broke out a day earlier, causing the evacuation of hundreds of tourists and residents from the beachside village of Vatera.

At least four houses were destroyed in Vatera, state TV ERT reported, and fires damaged an unknown number of shops, hotels and beach bars in the village.

Dozens of firefighters early on Sunday clamoured to control the blaze, with four water-dropping planes and two helicopters in operation.

In the northeastern region of Evros, a wildfire was ablaze for a fourth day in Dadia National Park, known for its black vulture colony.

The fire has already destroyed nearly 500 hectares (1,220 acres) of woodland.

More than 300 firefighters battled to control the fire in Evros and by late Saturday the thick smoke forced the evacuation of the village of Dadias.

It was unclear how many people were evacuated.

“The most important thing for us is the safety of the villagers and all forces (which) will be deployed there,” Evros governor Dimitris Petrovits told Athens News Agency.

The fire had already passed the raptor birds observatory and was closing in on the buildings of the protected area management unit.

Petrovits said collecting and treating injured animals was a high priority for the authorities.

In the Peloponnese, a southern peninsula, a fire that broke out early Saturday forced the evacuation of Chrysokelaria village.

By midday on Sunday, firefighters had managed to contain the fire.

A wildfire in mountains near Athens on Wednesday also damaged homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate after gale-force winds earlier in the week.

Greece’s worst wildfire disaster killed 102 people in 2018 in the coastal suburb of Mati, east of Athens.

The latest fires come after a heatwave and wildfires last year destroyed 103,000 hectares and claimed three lives in Greece.

Fires in parts of France, Spain and Portugal have already burned more land so far this year than was destroyed by flames in all of 2021.

The area, some 517,881 hectares, is equivalent to the size of Trinidad and Tobago.

AFP

Hamilton ‘Loses Three Kilos’ As French GP Water Bottle Runs Dry

MONTREAL, QUEBEC – JUNE 18: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes rides a scooter in the Paddock after qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 18, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec. Clive Rose/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by CLIVE ROSE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

 

An exhausted Lewis Hamilton celebrated his 300th Formula One race on Sunday by lying exhausted on his back on the floor of a cool-down room after finishing second in the French Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion explained that the drinks bottle in his Mercedes car did not work and he was dehydrated after racing in searing heat at the Paul Ricard Circuit.

“That was a tough race because my drinks bottle didn’t work, but what a great result considering we’ve been so far off these guys all weekend,” said Hamilton.

“I feel fantastic, but I wish I felt more hydrated – I’m looking forward to taking a few drinks now. I don’t usually use the drinks bottle in a race, so it was my first time all year to try it and nothing came out.

“I didn’t check my weight, but I would imagine I have lost around three kilos today so I am looking forward to downing this drink.”

Hamilton recovered after a short rest to join the podium celebrations.

He heaped praise on his Mercedes team and team-mate George Russell and the big sell-out holiday crowd.

“Reliability is one thing my team is amazing at — so huge congratulations to the team back at the factories and the team here,” he said.

“Without them we wouldn’t get this podium. And George did an amazing job as well.”

Russell finished third to confirm Mercedes’ first double podium finish of the season.

Looking ahead to next weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton added: “I love it at Budapest. Super excited to see the crowd there.

“It will be hard to beat Ferrari and Red Bull, they have the pace advantage still, but I’m hoping we bring upgrades to the track and hopefully step forward. Hopefully in that race, even closer.”

Hamilton is only the sixth driver to appear in 300 Grands Prix and is bidding to be the first to win a race after reaching that total.

He is the only driver to have seen the chequered flag at the end of every race this season and Mercedes are the only team to score points in each race.

AFP

Evacuation Alert After Volcano Erupts In Southern Japan

Japan on the map

 

Dozens of people were urged to evacuate their homes after a fiery volcanic eruption in southern Japan on Sunday as the national weather agency issued its top-level alert for the mountain.

Television footage showed red-hot rocks and dark plumes exploding from Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima, which erupted just after 8 pm (1100 GMT).

There were no immediate reports of damage, said deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has instructed the government “to work closely with the local municipality to ensure damage prevention, such as through evacuations,” Isozaki told reporters.

The volcano frequently spits out smoke and ash, and is a major tourist attraction.

Sunday’s blast propelled large cinders about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the crater, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said, while the smoke reached around 300 metres and merged with the clouds.

The agency raised its alert for Sakurajima to level five, the top level, which urges evacuations.

Previously it was at level three, which bans entry to the mountain.

The volcano saw four earlier eruptions between Saturday and Sunday afternoon, with the plume reaching as high as 1,200 metres.

“Residential areas of Arimura town and Furusato town within three kilometres of the summit crater… of Sakurajima should be on high alert,” Tsuyoshi Nakatsuji of JMA’s Volcanic Observation Division told reporters.

According to Kagoshima City, there are 77 residents in the two towns.

Nakatsuji said the JMA last week had observed the swelling of the volcano, which signals the accumulation of magma.

“But the swelling hasn’t been resolved after the latest eruption,” he said.

“We’ll carefully monitor this.”

Japan has scores of active volcanoes and sits on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” where a large proportion of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded.

Sakurajima was formerly an island, but due to previous eruptions is now attached to a peninsula.

Japan last issued the top evacuation alert for a volcano when Kuchinoerabu island, also in Kagoshima, erupted in 2015.

AFP

Over 1,000 Migrants Arrive In Italy Amid Election Campaign

Migrants aboard a Guradia di Finanza and Navy military vessel are tranferred from the so-called migrant “Hotspot” operational processing facility on the southern Italian Island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, to another center, on July 11, 2022. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

 

More than a thousand migrants arrived in Italy within a few hours while hundreds of others, rescued by humanitarian vessels, were waiting for a port to receive them, NGOs and authorities said Sunday.

The influx — while not unusual for the summer months — this year comes as Italy gears up for early elections which could bring the hard right to power.

Between January 1 and July 22, 34,000 people arrived in Italy by sea compared with 25,500 during the same period in 2021 and 10,900 in 2020, Italy’s interior ministry said.

More than 600 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean on board a drifting fishing vessel were rescued on Saturday by a merchant vessel and coastguards off Calabria, at the southern tip of Italy.

They were landed in several ports in Sicily.

The authorities also recovered five bodies of migrants who had died in so far undetermined circumstances.

On the island of Lampedusa, some 522 people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others, arrived from the late hours of Saturday in 15 different boats from Tunisia and Libya.

According to the Italian media, the island’s reception centre has been overwhelmed.

With a capacity of 250-300 people, it currently hosts 1,200, according to the Ansa news agency.

According to La Sicilia daily, the latest arrivals on Lampedusa came both by ships carrying dozens, even hundreds of people, as well as by small inflatable boats.

Four Tunisians, including one woman, ran aground during the night on the beach of Cala Pisana after crossing the stretch of sea separating Tunisia and the Italian island, the daily said.

At the same time, it said that coastguards had intercepted a 13-metre (43-foot) ship which had departed from the northwestern Libyan city of Zawiya with 123 people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Sudan on board.

– Most dangerous route –

Offshore NGOs continued to recover hundreds of migrants in distress in the Mediterranean.

SeaWatch reported that it had carried out four rescue operations on Saturday.

“On board SeaWatch3, we have 428 people, including women and children, a woman nine months pregnant and a patient with severe burns,” it said on its Twitter account.

OceanViking, operated by non-governmental organisation SOS Mediterranean, reported that it had recovered 87 people, including 57 unaccompanied minors, who were crammed onto “an overcrowded inflatable boat in distress in international waters off Libya”.

The Central Mediterranean migration route is the most dangerous in the world.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that 990 people have died and disappeared since the beginning of the year.

The latest inflow of migrants comes at a politically sensitive time in Italy.

Reformist Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned last week after being toppled by parties in his national unity government.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has dissolved parliament and set September 25 for new elections to be held.

But Draghi’s coalition could be replaced by a government dominated by the eurosceptic Brothers of Italy party and the pro-Russian, anti-immigration League.

Together the two parties are polling at almost 40 percent of the vote.

In a tweet on Sunday, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, deplored 411 illegal migrants having arrived in a few hours on Lampedusa.

“On September 25, Italians will be able to finally choose change: for the return of security, of courage and of border control,” he wrote.

AFP

Pope Heads To Canada To Make Amends For Indigenous School Abuse

Pope Francis boards his plane from a lift designed for the boarding and off boarding of reduced mobility passengers, on July 24, 2022 at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, as he departs for a trip to Canada. – Pope Francis heads to Canada on Juley 24, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Pope Francis was headed to Canada Sunday for a chance to personally apologise to Indigenous survivors of abuse committed over a span of decades at residential schools run by the Catholic Church.

The head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will be met at Edmonton’s international airport by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at 11:20 am (1720 GMT).

Francis’ Canada visit is primarily to apologize to survivors for the Church’s role in the scandal that a national truth and reconciliation commission has called “cultural genocide”.

Before he left Rome earlier Sunday, the pope said on Twitter he was making a “penitential pilgrimage” that “might contribute to the journey of reconciliation already undertaken”.

He will be joined on the visit by his diplomacy chief, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s second most senior official.

From the late 1800s to the 1990s, Canada’s government sent about 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children into 139 residential schools run by the Church, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.

Many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers.

Thousands of children are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

Since May 2021, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of the former schools.

A delegation of Indigenous peoples travelled to the Vatican in April and met the pope — a precursor to Francis’ six-day trip — after which he formally apologized.

But doing so again on Canadian soil will be of huge significance for survivors and their families, for whom the land of their ancestors is of particular importance.

The 10-hour flight constitutes the longest since 2019 for the 85-year-old pope, who has been suffering from knee pain that has forced him to use a cane or wheelchair in recent outings.

The pope was in a wheelchair Sunday and used a lifting platform to board the plane, an AFP correspondent accompanying him said.

– ‘Too late’ –

After resting Sunday, the pope will travel Monday to the community of Maskwacis, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Edmonton, and address an estimated crowd of 15,000 expected to include former students from across the country.

“I would like a lot of people to come,” said Charlotte Roan, 44, interviewed by AFP in June. The member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation said she wanted people to come “to hear that it wasn’t made up”.

Others see the pope’s visit as too little too late, including Linda McGilvery with the Saddle Lake Cree Nation near Saint Paul, about 200 kilometres east of Edmonton.

“I wouldn’t go out of my way to see him,” said the 68-year-old.

“For me it’s kind of too late, because a lot of the people suffered, and the priests and the nuns have now passed on.”

McGilvery spent eight years of her childhood in one of the schools, from age six to 13.

“Being in the residential school I lost a lot of my culture, my ancestry. That’s many years of loss,” she told AFP.

After a mass before tens of thousands of faithful in Edmonton on Tuesday, Francis will head northwest to an important pilgrimage site, the Lac Sainte Anne.

Following a July 27-29 visit to Quebec City, he will end his trip in Iqaluit, capital of the northern territory of Nunavut and home to the largest Inuit population in Canada.

There he will meet with former residential school students, before returning to Italy.

In total, Francis is expected to deliver four speeches and four homilies, all in Spanish.

Francis is the second pope to visit Canada, after John Paul II, who visited three times (1984, 1987 and 2002).

AFP

Snap Elections Called In Italy After Draghi Resigns

This handout photo taken and released on July 21, 2022, by the press office of the presidential Quirinale Palace shows Italian President Sergio Mattarella (R) signing the decrete to dissolve the Parliament in front of Italy resigning Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L). (Photo by Handout / Quirinale Press Office / AFP)

 

Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament Thursday, triggering early elections which could bring the hard right to power after the country’s warring parties toppled reformer Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The snap poll is expected to take place in September or October, and the internationally-respected Draghi will stay on as head of government until then.

Dissolving parliament was always a last resort, Mattarella said, but in this case a lack of consensus among the parties that had made up Draghi’s national unity government made it “inevitable”.

Italy was facing challenges, however, that could not be put on the backburner while the parties campaigned, he said.

There could be no “pauses in the essential inverventions to combat the effects of the economic and social crisis and in particular the rise in inflation”.

– ‘No more excuses’ –

Based on current polls, a rightist alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party would comfortably win a snap vote.

“No more excuses”, tweeted Meloni, 45, who vociferously led the opposition throughout Draghi’s term and has long called for fresh elections.

Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, was parachuted into the premiership in 2021 as Italy wrestled with a pandemic and ailing economy.

On Wednesday, he attempted to save the government, urging his squabbling coalition to put aside their grievances for the sake of the country.

But three parties — Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League and the populist Five Star Movement — said it was no longer possible for them to work together.

French President Emmanuel Macron, deprived of a major ally in Europe, hailed Draghi as a great Italian statesman and saluted his “unfailing commitment to reforming his country”.

– ‘Enough craziness’ –

The stunned centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which had supported Draghi, said its hopes were now pinned on Italians being “wiser than their MPs”.

Italy’s latest crisis was sparked when Five Star snubbed a key vote last week, despite warnings from Draghi that it would fatally undermine the coalition.

“Enough with Five Star craziness and PD power plays: Italians now get to choose”, anti-immigrant Salvini tweeted Thursday.

Though Five Star triggered the crisis, it was Salvini who pushed Draghi under the metaphorical bus, political commentators said.

The former interior minister, who has been losing voters to Meloni, “saw an opportunity to regain his primacy, in the centre-right and within the League”, editorialist Marco Damilano wrote in the Domani daily.

Draghi’s downfall comes despite recent polls suggesting most Italians wanted him to stay at the helm until the scheduled general election next May.

Anxious investors were watching closely as the coalition imploded.

The European Central Bank on Thursday unveiled a tool to correct stress in bond markets for indebted eurozone members, such as Italy.

Milan’s stock market dropped 2.0 percent on opening Thursday and the spread — the difference between 10-year Italian and German treasury bonds — widened to a high as 241 basis points after Draghi’s resignation.

– ‘Period of uncertainty –

Supporters of Draghi had warned a government collapse could worsen social ills in a period of rampant inflation, delay the budget, threaten EU post-pandemic recovery funds and send jittery markets into a tailspin.

The Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, is leading in the polls, with 23.9 percent of voter intentions, according to a SWG survey held three days before Draghi’s resignation.

To win a majority it would need the support of the League (polling at 14 percent) and Forza Italia (7.4 percent).

The PD is just behind Brothers of Italy, with 22.1 percent, but may be forced to ally with the troubled Five Star (polling at 11.2 percent), if it is to have a chance at beating the right.

Should a Brothers of Italy-led coalition win, it “would offer a much more disruptive scenario for Italy and the EU”, wrote Luigi Scazzieri, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Research consultancy Capital Economics said, however, there were “powerful fiscal and monetary incentives” for the next government to implement the reforms demanded by the European Union, or risk missing out on post-pandemic recovery funds worth billions of euros.

Brothers of Italy has repeatedly blamed the EU for Italy’s troubles.

But Meloni’s support for a “strong and common EU response” to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, “has already distanced herself from some other right-wingers in Italy and Europe,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank.

AFP