Category Archives: World

Eight school pupils feared dead in Japan ski resort avalanche

TOKYO: An avalanche killed eight high school students on a mountain-climbing trip in Japan on Monday, with more than 30 people reportedly injured.

More than 100 troops have been deployed in a major rescue effort after the avalanche hit ski slopes in Tochigi prefecture, with television footage showing rescuers climbing mountains as ambulances stood by.

A group of 52 students and 11 teachers from seven high schools were on a three-day mountaineering outing when disaster struck, according to authorities.

A warning had been issued for heavy snow and possible avalanches from Sunday until Monday in the area north of Tokyo, with the local weather agency forecasting snowfall of some 30 centimetres (about 12 inches).

At least eight students, mostly from Otawara High School in Tochigi, were found with no vital signs, an official with a prefectural disaster task force told AFP.

In Japan, deaths in such circumstances are not announced officially until doctors can confirm them.

More than 30 people have been injured according to news agency Kyodo.

“We still don’t know how many teachers are included among the victims,” an official said.

The avalanche struck in the town of Nasu 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Tokyo on the final day of the excursion, Tochigi authorities said, adding that soldiers were sent for rescue operations at the request of the prefecture’s governor.

“This is an annual event and we never had a major accident before,” one of the teachers told Jiji Press. “I am really shocked.”

The ski resort had been closed for the season, according to the operator’s website, with the lift stopped and no skiers at the site.

But some of its facilities were made available for the high school mountaineering trip organised by local physical education authorities.

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Saarc countries pull up Pakistan for unpaid dues

NEW DELHI: India and six other members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation have pulled up Pakistan, asking it to immediately pay up $7.85 million as its contribution to the South Asian University.

Pakistan is the only member of the SAARC which has not yet contributed any amount for running the institution since it started functioning in Delhi in 2010.

The external affairs ministry recently briefed a parliamentary panel on the issue and informed that SAU’s governing board will “review” Pakistan’s “continued participation” in the varsity if the country fails to contribute any amount to institution.

The issue was also discussed during the 53rd meeting of the SAARC’s programming committee in Kathmandu early last month. India has so far given $30.37 million as its operational contribution to the varsity.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka contributed $2.3 million, $4.9 million, $2.3 million, $1.8 million, $2.9 million and $2.9 million respectively.

Pakistan’s delay in making payment for the SAU is in keeping with its “general policy of resisting all initiatives by the SAARC”, said an expert on South Asian affairs and functioning of SAARC.

Pakistan has in the past blocked key SAARC initiatives for road and rail connectivity within the region as well as for counter-terrorism convention. The issue was discussed during the ninth meeting of the governing board of the varsity in Dhaka on November 28, 2016.

Pakistan, however, recently conveyed that efforts were being made to expedite payment of its share of contribution to the SAU, according to people aware of the matter. India has spent $ 29.92 million as capital cost to build the SAU near Maidan Garhi in South Delhi, in keeping with its commitment to bear the entire expenses to set up the varsity.

All eight member nations are required to share the recurring costs for running the institution.

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South Korea prosecutors seek arrest of ex-president Park

SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors sought an arrest warrant on Monday for ousted president Park Geun-Hye, they said, days after questioning her over the corruption and abuse of power scandal that brought her down.

Park, 65, had her removal from office confirmed by the country’s top court earlier this month, ending her executive immunity, and her prosecution has been a key demand of the millions of people who took to the streets to protest against her.

The former president is accused of multiple offences including bribery, leaking government information, and abuse of power in the scandal.

“The accused abused her enormous power and status as president to receive bribes from companies or to infringe upon the rights to freedom of corporate management and leaked important confidential information on state affairs. These are grave issues,” the prosecutors said in a statement.

“A large amount of evidence has been collected so far but the accused is denying most of the charges, and there is a risk of destroying evidence in the future,” it said.

Choi Soon-Sil, Park’s secret confidante at the heart of the scandal, is already on trial for forcing top local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations she allegedly used for personal gain.

Prosecutors said it would be “counter to the principle of fairness” if Park was not arrested.

If Seoul Central District Court approves the warrant, Park will become the third former leader to be arrested over corruption in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, where politics and big business have long been closely tied.

Two former army-backed leaders who ruled in the 1980s and 1990s — Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo — both served jail terms for charges including bribery after they retired.

Park has been named as Choi’s accomplice for allegedly offering governmental favours to top businessmen who enriched her friend, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong, who was arrested last month and charged with bribery last month.

She is also accused of letting Choi, a high school graduate with no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including nomination of top officials.

Park, daughter of late dictator Park Chung-Hee, is also said to have ordered aides to leak secret state files to Choi, and to have cracked down on thousands of artists who had voiced criticisms of her or her father’s iron-fisted rule from 1961 to 1979.

Park was elected in 2012, largely thanks to a bedrock of support among older, conservative voters who benefited from rapid economic growth under her father’s rule.

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Thousands evacuated as cyclone bears down on Australia

CAIRNS: Thousands of people including tourists were being evacuated on Monday as northern Australia braced for a powerful cyclone packing destructive winds with warnings of major structural damage and surging tides.

Cyclone Debbie has been forming off the coast of Queensland state over recent days, the Bureau of Meteorology said, and is expected to hit land after daybreak Tuesday morning.

Residents are being warned to prepare for the worst storm to pummel the state since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped homes from their foundations and devastated crops.

“This is going to be a nasty cyclone,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, adding that structural damage and power outages were likely.

“These wind gusts are going to be absolutely huge and my primary concern is making sure that families are safe.”

So far more 3,500 people have been evacuated between the towns of Home Hill and Proserpine, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Townsville, a popular tourist hotspot used to access the Great Barrier Reef.

Another 2,000 will be advised to leave throughout Monday, Palaszczuk said. More than 100 schools have been closed, along with local ports.

The premier urged residents to do as emergency service personnel asked, amid reports some people were refusing to leave.

“You may not think that this cyclone is going to be rough. But the winds that we are expecting in the Townsville region are going to be more severe than those that were experienced through Cyclone Yasi,” she said.

“So there is no time for complacency at all.”

Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the storm already appeared to have claimed the life of a tourist, as many visitors flee areas in the firing line.

“There has been a fatal traffic accident near Proserpine and we believe it is associated with this weather event and it looks like a tourist has lost their life in that traffic accident,” he said.

“The message is very, very clear at this stage. It is time to think very logically about your safety and the safety of your family.”

The meteorology bureau said Debbie was currently a category three cyclone on a scale of five but was expected to build to a four by the time it crosses land somewhere between Townsville and Proserpine, with wind gusts of up 280 kmh near the centre.

“Storm surge is also a risk factor, and if the cyclone crosses the coast around high tide this will enhance these effects,” it said.

“People living in coastal or low-lying areas prone to flooding should follow the advice of local emergency services and relocate while there is time.”

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Russian police detain opposition leader, hundreds of protesters

MOSCOW/YEKATERINBURG, Russia: Police detained hundreds of protesters across Russia on Sunday, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The protests, reckoned to be the biggest since a wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011/2012, come a year before a presidential election that Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, running for what would be a fourth term.

Opinion polls suggest the liberal opposition, which Navalny represents, has little chance of fielding a candidate capable of unseating Putin, who enjoys high ratings. But Navalny and his supporters hope to channel public discontent over official corruption to attract more support.

A Reuters reporter saw police detain Navalny, who hopes to run against Putin, as he walked along central Moscow’s Tverskaya Street with supporters, part of an unsanctioned rally as a police helicopter circled overhead.

Police put Navalny in a truck around which hundreds of protesters crowded, trying to open its doors.

“I’m happy that so many people came out (onto the streets) from the east (of the country) to Moscow,” Navalny said, moments before he was detained.

The Kremlin said on Friday that plans for the central Moscow protest, which the city’s authorities had rejected, were an illegal provocation.

The United States condemned the arrests, saying the action was an affront to democratic values.

“We call on the government of Russia to immediately release all peaceful protesters,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement, adding that Washington was “troubled” to hear of the arrest of Navalny.


Grigory Okhotin, one of the founders of OVD Info, a human rights organisation that monitors detentions, said around 600 people had been detained in Moscow on Sunday.

Police said around 7,000 to 8,000 people were on Tverskaya Street and surrounding areas by mid-afternoon and put the number of detentions by late afternoon at around 500.

As evening drew in, hundreds of riot police lined up on Manezh Square at the end of Tverskaya Street and drove protesters away from the Kremlin’s walls. Some opposition supporters on Manezh Square shouted: “Putin is a thief” as tourists wandered nearby.

Navalny called the protests after publishing allegations that Medvedev, the prime minister and former president, had amassed a huge fortune that far outstripped his official salary.

Medvedev’s spokeswoman called the allegations “propagandistic attacks” unworthy of detailed comment and said they amounted to pre-election posturing by Navalny.

Elsewhere, at a rally in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, a Reuters reporter saw 30 people being detained after unfurling banners reading: “The prime minister should answer”.

“I’ve come out (to protest) against corruption and want the authorities to answer the accusations in the Navalny film,” 17-year-old student Denis Korneev said at the Moscow protest.

“In many countries the government would have resigned over this.”

Witnesses told Reuters that four people were also detained at a rally in Yekaterinburg in the industrial Urals region.

On Yekaterinburg’s Labour Square, protesters waved posters reading: “We are the authorities here” while nationalists and supporters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party looked on.

Local media reported that large protests also took place in other cities, including St Petersburg and Novosibirsk. State media broadly ignored Sunday’s protests.

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United Airlines bars teenage girls in leggings from flight

Two teenage girls wearing leggings were barred from boarding a United Airlines flight on Sunday because they did not meet a dress code for special pass travelers, a company spokesman said amid a furor on social media.

The two girls, who were traveling with a companion, would not have been turned away for wearing leggings had they been paying customers, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said as the airline responded to the backlash.

“(The two girls) were instructed that they couldn’t board until they corrected their outfit. They were fine with it and completely understood,” Guerin said, adding that all three passengers missed the flight. He did not know if they had boarded a later plane or made alternate travel arrangements.

Though the three passengers did not complain about their treatment, another traveler, Shannon Watts, who overheard the discussion touched off a firestorm on social media with a series of tweets describing a policy she suggested was unfairly targeting women and girls.

“This behavior is sexist and sexualizes young girls,” Watts said on Twitter. “Not to mention that the families were mortified and inconvenienced.”

United pass travelers are typically company employees or their friends or family members.

Watts’ tweets and United’s defense of it touched a raw nerve for many women and girls who have made leggings a staple in their wardrobes.

The popularity of leggings has sparked criticism that they are inappropriate attire under certain circumstances. Some schools have barred girls from wearing them to class.

Social media lit up with outrage against the policy and the airline for its response to the initial outcry. Celebrities chimed in with humorous protests.

“I have flown united before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. Next time I will wear only jeans and a top,” model Chrissy Teigen tweeted.

United later put out a statement titled: “To our customers … Your leggings are welcome!” that explained the policy for passholders in greater detail.

That policy also bars midriff-baring tops, attire that reveals undergarments or is designated as sleepwear or swimwear, mini-skirts, shorts that fall less than 3 inches above the knee or dirty or torn clothing.

Guerin conceded that the airline, in its initial response to the flap, could have done a better job of explaining the situation and countering apparently inaccurate information about the incident that appeared on Twitter.

“We’ll definitely take something away from today, but we’ll continue to engage with our customers (on social media),” he said.

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Hong Kong gets first woman leader

A committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites chose Hong Kong‘s next leader on Sunday in the first vote since huge pro-democracy protests erupted over the election system in 2014.

Carrie Lam, the government’s former No 2 official and Beijing’s favoured candidate, received 777 votes, defeating former finance secretary John Tsang, who received 365 votes. Lam will become the first female leader for the city and its fourth since British colonial control ended.

China’s communist leadership had lobbied for her, so Lam’s victory was no surprise. After the votes were counted, Lam shook hands with second place finisher, former finance secretary John Tsang, who received 365 votes. Lam will take over from incumbent Leung Chun-ying. Lam is an efficient and pragmatic administrator but unpopular with Hong Kongers because she’s seen as a proxy for Beijing. Tsang, in contrast, is popular because of his easygoing persona and use of social media.

“Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness,” Lam said in a victory speech. “My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration, and to unite our society to move forward.” Lam also pledged to follow through on election promises, including introducing a “two-tier” profits tax, reducing tax to spur research and development, tackling the high cost of housing by in creasing land supply and boosting education spending.She also promised to defend the rule of law and freedom of expression as integral to underpinning prosperity .

Some pro-democracy supporters in the official seating area yelled slogans and held up a yellow umbrella, the symbol of the 2014 protests. The election committee was at the root of the protests as activists decried the lack of a direct choice by Hong Kong residents. Scuffles broke out outside the voting centre between protesters and police, who used barricades to keep them away . The activists denounced Beijing’s “interference” amid widespread reports of lobbying of voters to back Lam, rather than Tsang.

“Lies, coercion, whitewash,” read one banner. Many , including opposition democrats, fear Lam will stick to the tough policies of Chun-ying, who ordered the firing of teargas on pro-democracy protesters in 2014 and who was not seen to be defending Hong Kong’s autonomy . Since HK returned to Chinese rule in 1997, Beijing has gradually increased control over it even though it promised wide-ranging freedoms and autonomy not allowed on the mainland under formula of “one country, two systems”.

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Five dead in military helicopter crash in east Ukraine

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian military helicopter crashed in the war-torn east of the country on Sunday, killing all five people aboard after apparently hitting a power line, in what is believed to be an accident, the army said.

“Five people died in this tragedy — three crew members and two passengers,” army spokesman Oleksandr Motuzianyk said.

The incident occurred near the village of Malynivka, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of government-controlled city of Kramatorsk in the war-torn Donetsk region.

Motuzianyk said that the cause of the crash appeared to be “collision with a power line”, but it has yet to be investigated.

Nearly 10,000 people have died since the start of a pro-Russian rebellion in 2014 that Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of masterminding.

Both Ukraine and the West — which has imposed sanctions on Russia as a result of the unrest — say the separatist regions receive military backing from Moscow, although Russia has never officially recognised them.

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Over 130 detained at Moscow anti-corruption rally: Rights group

MOSCOW: More than 130 people were detained Sunday in Moscow as thousands attended a rally against government corruption, according to a rights group tracking arrests.

“Over 130 people have been detained in Moscow,” the group, OVD Info, said on Twitter, with more detentions ongoing in the city centre where police had used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

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UK police still think Westminster attacker acted alone

LONDON: British police investigating an assault on Parliament that claimed four victims and wounded dozens say they still believe the assailant acted alone.

Police said late Saturday there is no information indicating that further attacks are planned.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said it may never be possible to fully determine the motives of attacker Khalid Masood, who was shot dead Wednesday after running over pedestrians with an SUV and fatally stabbing a policeman.

Basu said “that understanding may have died with him,” as police appealed for people who knew Masood or saw him to contact investigators.

One man remains in custody in the case. He has not been charged or named.

Masood, 52, had convictions for violence and spent time in prison. He also worked in Saudi Arabia teaching English.

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