Category Archives: WORLD

Italy quake toll hits 247 as rescuers hunt for survivors

ACCUMOLI: The death toll from a powerful earthquake that shook central Italy rose to 247 on Thursday, officials said, as rescuers desperately searched for survivors in the rubble of devastated mountain villages.

Hundreds of others were injured, some critically, and an unknown number were trapped under the ruins of collapsed buildings after Wednesday’s pre-dawn quake.

Amid scenes of carnage, dozens of emergency services staff and volunteers were determined to attempt to pluck more survivors from the ruins.

Rescuers had pledged to work through the night in the hope of finding people alive in the mangled wreckage of homes.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had earlier warned that the toll would likely rise after visiting the badly hit village of Amatrice.

Hundreds of people spent a chilly night in hastily assembled tents with the risk of aftershocks making it too risky for them to return home.

Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicentre of the quake, which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2.

It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio at a time of year when second-home owners and other visitors swell the numbers staying there.

Many of the victims were from Rome.

The devastated area is just north of L’Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.

Most of the deaths occurred in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.

Anguish

Guido Bordo, 69, lost his sister and her husband after they were trapped inside their holiday house in the hamlet of Illica, near Accumoli.

“There’s no sound from them, we only heard their cats,” he told AFP before the deaths were confirmed.

“I wasn’t here. As soon as the quake happened, I rushed here. They managed to pull my sister’s children out, they’re in hospital now,” he added, wringing his hands in anguish.

Among the victims was a nine-month-old baby girl whose parents survived, an 18-month-old toddler and two other young children who died with their parents in Accumoli.

Two boys aged four and seven were saved by their quick-thinking grandmother, who ushered them under a bed as soon as the shaking began, according to reports. She also survived but lost her husband.

Renzi said it was too early to consider what might have been done to prevent the disaster.

“Today is the time for tears and emotion,” he said, vowing that his government would start reconstruction work first thing on Thursday.

Bodies in playground

It was Italy’s most powerful earthquake since the 2009 disaster in L’Aquila.

People prepare to spend the night in a gymnasium. Residents have been advised not to return to their homes. ─AP

“Half the village has disappeared,” said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi, surveying a town centre that looked as if had been subjected to a bombing raid.

The tremors were strong enough to be felt 150 kilometres away in Rome, where authorities ordered structural tests on the Colosseum.

Some of the worst damage was in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region where the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children’s park.

With residents advised not to go back into their homes, temporary campsites were being set up in Amatrice and Accumoli as authorities looked to find emergency accommodation for more than 2,000 people.

Amatrice is a hilltop beauty spot considered home of amatriciana, one of Italy’s favourite pasta sauces. It is popular with Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.

It was packed with visitors when the quake struck at 3:36am (0136 GMT).

Three minutes later the clock on the village’s 13th-century tower stopped.

Out of the blue’

The first quake measured 6.2, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

It measured 6.0 according to Italian monitors, who put the depth at only four kilometres. A 5.4-magnitude aftershock followed an hour later.

Italy is vulnerable to earthquakes and the 2009 tremor in L’Aquila led to lengthy recriminations over lax building controls and the failure of authorities to warn residents that a quake could be imminent.

David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at Britain’s Open University, said the shallowness of Wednesday’s quake had made it more destructive.

But he added: “Unlike the L’Aquila quake, which was preceded by swarms of smaller quakes and led to claims ─ unjustified in my view ─ that the eventual big quake should have been predicted, this one appears to have struck out of the blue.”

Pakistan makes strong pitch for NSG membership

UNITED NATIONS: Pakis­tan has made a strong case for the country’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) — a 48-nation body that regulates the global trade in nuclear technology — telling the UN Security Council that the exemplary measures Islam­­abad had taken to strengthen nuclear safety establish its eligibility credentials.

“We expect that a non-discriminatory, criteria-based approach is followed for extending NSG membership which strengthens the non-proliferation regime,” said Pak­istan’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassa­dor Maleeha Lodhi, on Tuesday.

Speaking on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Ambassador Lodhi said Pakistan had implemented a comprehensive export control regime, participated in the Nuclear Security Summit process, ratified the 2005 amendment to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, declared unilateral moratorium on further nuclear testing and reiterated its willingness to translate it into a bilateral arrangement on non-testing with India, all of which established its eligibility to become a NSG member.

In her remarks, she said the global disarmament landscape presented a gloomy picture due to the lack of progress by states with nuclear weapons in fulfilling their disarmament obligations. As disarmament and non-proliferation were linked, it was unrealistic to expect progress on one without movement on the other.

A challenge to non-proliferation norms was the granting of discriminatory waivers, arrangements which denoted double standards and opened the possibility of diverting material intended for peaceful use to military purposes, she added.

“Differences in state capacities compounded challenges to addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” she said.

More Mi-25s on wish list as Afghan army chief visits India on next week

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan will ask for the delivery of more Mi-25 gunship helicopters from India as the Afghan National Army (ANA) chief of staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shaheem visits New Delhi next week, Indian media reported on Tuesday.

Sources in New Delhi have said Gen. Shaheem will hand over a wish list of Afghanistan that will include more Mi-25 gunship helicopters, small choppers and medical emergencies as well as spares for the existing Russian-origin aircraft.
The Afghan Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali told Reuters regarding Gen.

Shaheem’s visit to New Delhi “We are grateful for the four helicopters. But we need more, we need much more. Today we are heading into a situation that is worrisome for everyone in the region including India.”

India started the delivery of lethal military equipment to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces late in December 2015.

The Afghan Air Force received 3 of the 4 Mi-25 gunship helicopters late in the month of December which coincided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Afghanistan.
The Indian sources have said India is preparing the fourth gunship helicopter for the delivery to the Afghan armed forces and hope hope that the delivery will be doen in the near future.

“The fourth helicopter is yet to be transferred. It needs spares before it can be made fully operational and the spares have to come from Russia,” diplomatic sources told The Hindu local newspaper.

The sources further added that efforts were on to fix the issue. “There was an issue with the spares. It is being sorted out. It should be delivered very soon,” a senior defence official said without specifying a timeframe.

The four helicopters were taken from the inventory of the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the Air Force station in Pathankot. The IAF operates Russian-built Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters which are to be phased out very soon.

Indian PM Modi, Afghan President Ghani jointly inaugurate Kabul’s Stor Palace

KABUL: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the newly-restored Stor Palace in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani via video link on Monday, Tolo News reported.

“In our hearts and minds, Indians and Afghans have always been close friends,” the Indian premier said, adding that India’s 1.25 billion people will “always be on Afghanistan’s side in terms of working towards peace and stability”.

The Indian PM said that joint initiatives between the two countries symbolised “the foundations of a modern Afghanistan”.

“India will always work with you (Afghanistan) for a bright future,” he said.

President Ghani thanked India for helping restore the historical building of Stor Palace. “Let me express my most sincere thanks to the government and people of India for standing beside us in days of happiness and sorrow.”

Ghani said bilateral relations between India and Afghanistan are ‘developing’.

Earlier this year, India and Afghanistan inaugurated the $300 million Friendship Dam in Herat. India also gifted Kabul a symbolic gift of democracy, its new parliament building in December last year.

India has poured more than $1 billion into Afghanistan reconstruction projects and humanitarian aid, making it one of the largest donors to the war-torn country.

Pakistani passport holders no longer require visas to travel to US

WASHINGTON: The US Department of State on Sunday updated the number of qualified Visa Waiver Program (VWP) designated countries from 38 to 39. The 39th country to have enjoyed the privilege is Pakistan.

Pakistani passport holders no longer require visas to travel to the United States. This takes Pakistan from the list of countries whose citizens are required to obtain visas for travel to the United States.

In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier to determine eligibility to travel without a visa to the United States for tourism or business. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the State Department arrived at the decision as a way to reward Pakistan in helping to fight terrorism.