BRUSSELS: A scandal involving eggs contaminated with insecticide spread to 15 EU countries, Switzerland and as far away as Hong Kong on Friday as the European Commission called for a special meeting on the growing crisis.
Ministers and food safety chiefs from around the EU are set to meet on Sept. 26 in a bid to get countries to stop “blaming and shaming” each other over the scare involving the chemical fipronil.
Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe and dozens of poultry farms closed since the discovery of fipronil, which can harm human health, was made public on Aug. 1.
The issue has sparked a row between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, the three countries at the epicenter of the crisis, about how long they knew about the problem.
“Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this,” Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, said as he announced the meeting.
“We need to work together to draw the necessary lessons and move forward instead.”
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that “this is not, let’s be clear, a crisis meeting” and it is being held next month to get “distance to the events.”
Fipronil is commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but is banned by the EU from use in the food industry.
The EU insists there is no threat to human health, but the World Health Organization (WHO) says that when eaten in large quantities it can harm people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.
Brussels said the 15 affected EU countries were Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, Britain, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Denmark, along with non-EU Switzerland.
But in a sign the crisis is going global, Brussels also announced that Hong Kong had received some tainted eggs from the Netherlands, with the southern Chinese city becoming the first place in Asia known to be affected.
As well as dealing with the immediate food safety issue, the EU is also seeking to calm tempers over the egg row after a series of divisive crises in the bloc in recent years, from Brexit to migration.
Belgium earlier this week accused the Netherlands of knowing about the fipronil eggs since November 2016 and failing to notify other countries.
On Thursday, Dutch Health Minister Edith Schippers admitted the government had made “errors” but denied a cover-up.
“We were well aware of a report of the presence of fipronil in the pens of egg-laying hens in November 2016, but there was no indication at the time that fipronil itself was found in the eggs,” said Schippers.
A Dutch whistleblower separately said he had told the authorities that Chickfriend, the Dutch company at the center of the scandal, was illegally using fipronil in the treatment of lice in chicken pens in The Netherlands.
“I am the anonymous whistleblower,” Nick Hermens told the NPO public broadcaster.
A Belgian company, Poultry Vision, has said it provided Chickfriend with the chemical.
Dutch and Belgian investigators carried out coordinated raids on several premises on Thursday, arresting two people at Chickfriend.
However, Belgium itself has been forced to admit that it knew about fipronil in eggs back in June but kept it secret for nearly two months because of a criminal investigation.
Fresh discoveries of contaminated eggs have continued daily.
Denmark said on Friday it had found 2 tons of fipronil-tainted scrambled eggs, bringing the total of contaminated eggs to 22 tons, mainly from Belgium.
Poland said it had discovered about 40,000 eggs imported from Germany.
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said that since April the country had sold nearly 250,000 contaminated eggs, imported from Belgium and the Netherlands, but the risk for consumers was “very low” given French eating habits.
The food scare is one of the biggest to hit Europe since the 2013 horsemeat scandal when equine meat was falsely labelled and mis-sold.
Previous food scandals include contamination of chickens and eggs by dioxin in 1999, which began in Belgium, and mad-cow disease — cattle feed contaminated by the ground-up carcasses of animals infected with a deadly brain disorder — which ran from roughly 1986-1998 and started in Britain.
BRUSSELS: A scandal involving eggs contaminated with insecticide spread to 15 EU countries, Switzerland and as far away as Hong Kong on Friday as the European Commission called for a special meeting on the growing crisis.
FRANKFURT: A cyber-spying group with suspected links to Russian military intelligence was probably behind a campaign targeting hotel guests in eight mostly European countries last month, researchers at security firm FireEye said on Friday.
The espionage group, dubbed APT 28, sought to steal password credentials from Western government and business travelers using hotel Wi-Fi networks, in order then to infect their organizational networks back home, FireEye said in a report.
The wave of attacks during the first week of July targeted travelers who were staying in several hotel chains in at least seven countries in Europe and one in the Middle East, it said.
These preliminary findings are the latest to allege that Russia is engaged in far-flung hacking activity aimed at governments, businesses and election campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful White House bid last year.
Several governments and security research firms have linked APT 28 to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence directorate. Other researchers have tracked the same pattern of attacks, but stopped short of linking APT 28 to the Russian state.
Moscow vehemently denies the accusations.
Benjamin Read, manager of cyber espionage analysis for US-based FireEye, said the technical exploits and remote chain of command used to mount the attacks all clearly pointed to APT 28, whose vast scope of activities his firm has detailed since 2014.
“We are moderately confident in our assessment,” Read told Reuters, saying this was because the technical inquiry was still in its early days. “We just don’t have the smoking gun yet.”
The latest attempts were identified and thwarted in the initial infiltration stage. But similar methods were used in the autumn of 2016 at hotels in Europe, and managed to breach the computer of a US government employee, he said.
In the July attacks, FireEye found spear-phishing emails were used to trick hotel employees to download an infected hotel reservation document, which then installed Gamefish malware run remotely from Internet sites known to be controlled by APT 28.
This foothold gave the cyber spies control over guest wifi networks and could help them grab passwords of targeted victims and sniff unencrypted data being transmitted to shared network drives in the up-market, business-class hotels of major cities.
“We did not observe any guest credentials being stolen. However there were multiple hotel chains targeted and we don’t know the full extent of the operation,” Read said.
The July attacks took advantage of a recently leaked piece of malicious software known as EternalBlue, believed to have been stolen from the US National Security Agency, giving hackers a highly sophisticated way to move silently inside organizations’ networks once they infect even a single machine.
It was also EternalBlue that fueled the worldwide spread of WannaCry ransomware in May and the NotPetya attack against Ukraine in June, which fanned out globally to hit dozens of major firms.
The 2016 hotel attacks tricked one user with a fake Adobe Flash update and were likely launched by a nearby hacker on the same guest Wi-Fi network, FireEye said. APT 28 logged into the guest’s web-based Outlook e-mail account 12 hours later, it said.
The government employee returned to the US and the infection spread to their agency when their computer was reconnected to the network, Read said.
He declined to comment on how far the attack reached or whether it caused any damage.
INDIA: More than 30 children have died at a government-run hospital in northern India over 48 hours, police said Friday, allegedly due to lack of oxygen supply to the wards housing the sick.
The children were admitted at the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur district of northern Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populated state ruled by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.
“The hospital has said that 23 children died on Thursday and 11 today. At the moment we only have this information,” senior police superintendent Satyarth Aniruddha Pankaj told AFP by phone.
“The matter is being investigated.”
Multiple local media reports said the children died after the company which was supplying oxygen stopped the service, apparently over non-payment of dues running into millions of rupees.
City magistrate V K Srivastava however denied the allegations and said the hospital had enough oxygen cylinders in stock.
“The deaths were not due to lack of oxygen as is being reported. The supply was stopped yesterday (Thursday) but the hospital has enough cylinders in stock,” he told AFP.
“Many acute cases are referred to the hospital and on an average 10-11 kids die daily. A team has been set up to look into the matter.”
State-run hospitals in India are often stretched to breaking point, with patients facing long delays for even minor treatment and forced to share beds.
As a result, Indians avoid the state-run system if they can, with many flocking to private clinics and hospitals.
But a consultation with a private GP can cost 1,000 rupees ($15), a huge sum for millions living on less than $2 a day.
LONDON: British firefighters said they had extinguished a small fire on an underground train at Oxford Circus station in the center of London’s main shopping district on Friday, saying it had been caused by an electrical fault under the train.
“Firefighters dealt with a small fire on a train on the Bakerloo line at Oxford Circus,” London Fire Brigade said in a statement. “Four people were treated for smoke inhalation with two taken to hospital as a precaution.”
The station reopened following a brief closure, the city’s transport authority said.
“The cause of the smoke was an electrical fault under one of the carriages, which resulted in a small fire that was quickly extinguished,” said Nigel Holness, London Underground’s director of network operations.
“Understandably this was a distressing incident for our customers, for which I give my sincere apologies.”
London Fire Brigade posted a picture on Twitter of smoke billowing out of the doors of the train while one commuter shared a photograph of passengers covering their mouths with jumpers and clothing in the train carriage.
BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that she opposed any use of force to resolve the conflict with North Korea, after President Donald Trump said the US military was “locked and loaded.”
“I don’t envision a military solution to this conflict but rather consistent work as we’ve observed at the United Nations Security Council,” Merkel told reporters.
“Germany will very intensively take part in the options for resolution that are not military but I consider a verbal escalation to be the wrong response,” she said when asked about Trump’s latest tweets on North Korea.
NEW DELHI: India’s military has increased operational readiness along the eastern Indian border with China, sources said, as neither side shows any sign of backing off from a face-off in a remote Himalayan region near their disputed frontier.
Indian and Chinese troops have been embroiled in the seven-week confrontation on the Doklam plateau, claimed by both China and India’s tiny ally, Bhutan.
The sources, who were briefed on the deployment, said they did not expect the tensions, involving about 300 soldiers on each side standing a few hundred feet apart, to escalate into a conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962.
But the military alert level had been raised as a matter of caution, two sources in New Delhi and in the eastern state of Sikkim told Reuters on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The crisis began in June when a Chinese construction crew was found to be trying to extend a road in the Doklam region that both China and the mountainous nation of Bhutan claim as theirs.
India, which has special ties with Bhutan, sent its troops to stop the construction, igniting anger in Beijing which said New Delhi had no business to intervene, and demanded a unilateral troop withdrawal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, though, has dug in its heels and said that the Chinese road activity in the region near the borders of India, Bhutan and China was a threat to the security of its own northeast region.
“The army has moved to a state that is called ‘no war, no peace’,” one of the sources said. Under the order issued to all troop formations in the eastern command a week ago, soldiers are supposed take up positions that are earmarked for them in the event of a war, the source said.
Each year, Indian troop formations deployed on the border go on such an “operational alert” usually in September and October. But this year the activity has been advanced in the eastern sector, the source in Sikkim, above which lies the area of the current standoff, said.
“Its out of caution. It has been done because of the situation,” the source said. But the source stressed there was no additional force deployment and that the area was well defended.
The move comes as diplomatic efforts to break the stalemate failed to make headway, other sources with close ties to the Modi government told Reuters earlier in the week.
China has repeatedly warned of an escalation if India did not order its troops back. The state-controlled Global Times which has kept a barrage of hostile commentary said this week that if Modi continued the present course in the border, Beijing would have to take “counter-measures.”
Ties between the neighbors have been souring over China’s military assistance to India’s arch rival Pakistan and its expanding presence in smaller nations in South Asia which New Delhi long regarded as its area of influence.
China has criticized the Modi government’s public embrace of the Dalai Lama and its decision to let the Tibetan spiritual leader, whom it regards as a “dangerous splittist,” to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh which China claims as its own.
China has also frowned at India’s expanding military ties with the United States as well as Japan.
BEDMINSTER, US/SEOUL: President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea on Friday, saying the US military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and world powers expressed alarm.
The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonize North Korea. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Germany voiced dismay at the escalating rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington.
Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, kept up the war of words and again referenced North Korea’s leader in his latest bellicose remarks toward Pyongyang this week. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” he wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!“
The term “locked and loaded,” popularized in the 1949 war film “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring American actor John Wayne, refers to preparations for shooting a gun.
Friday’s tweet by the Republican president, a wealthy businessman and former reality television personality, came shortly after the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, put out a statement blaming him for the boiling tensions.
“Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, making such outcries as ‘the US will not rule out a war against the DPRK (North Korea),’” KCNA said.
Guam, the Pacific island that is a US territory, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack after a threat from North Korea to fire missiles in its vicinity.
“Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you,” the guidelines stated. “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”
Guam is home to a strategically located US air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 US military personnel. KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 18 to 25 miles (30-40 km) from Guam.
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
Trump on Friday retweeted a message from the US military command in the Pacific saying American B-1B Lancer bombers on Guam “stand ready” if called upon for use in the crisis.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a day after returning from an Asia trip that included a stop in Guam, was set to meet with Trump and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in Bedminster on Friday.
’Over the top’ rhetoric
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a previously unveiled joint Russian-Chinese plan under which North Korea would freeze missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. Neither the United States nor North Korea has embraced the plan.
Lavrov said the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program are very high and Moscow is deeply worried by the threats from Washington and Pyongyang.
“Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said on live state television at a forum for Russian students. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.”
Tension in the region has risen since reclusive North Korea staged two nuclear bomb tests last year and launched two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July in defiance of world powers. Trump has said he would not allow Pyongyang to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States.
The annual joint US-South Korean military exercise, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, is expected to proceed as scheduled starting on Aug. 21, said Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman.
Trump’s latest comments were a continuation of days of incendiary rhetoric, including his warning on Tuesday that the United States would unleash “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if it threatened the United States and Thursday’s comments warning of grave consequences if North Korea carried out its Guam plans.
Amid the heated words, South Koreans are buying more ready-to-eat meals that could be used in an emergency and the government is planning to expand nationwide civil defense drills planned for on Aug. 23. Hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals are arrayed on both sides of the tense demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.
The damage inflicted on world stocks this week by the tensions topped $1 trillion on Friday, as investors again took cover in the yen, the Swiss franc, gold and government bonds.
US financial markets took the rhetorical escalation in stride on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.25 percent while the S&P 500 gained 0.34 percent and the Nasdaq Composite was up 0.80 percent in afternoon trading.
Merkel urges UN role
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no military solution to the dispute, adding that “an escalation of the rhetoric is the wrong answer.”
“I see the need for enduring work at the UN Security Council … as well as tight cooperation between the countries involved, especially the US and China,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
There have been no changes as of Friday morning in the US military status in the continental United States or in the Pacific military command readiness or alert status, US officials said.
China, North Korea’s most important ally and trading partner, hopes all sides can do more to help ease the crisis and increase mutual trust, rather than taking turns in shows of strength, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Trump on Thursday again urged China to do more to resolve the situation.
Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy, has engaged in back-channel diplomacy for several months with Pak Song Il, a senior diplomat at Pyongyang’s UN mission, on the deteriorating relations and the issue of Americans imprisoned in North Korea, the Associated Press reported.
The US State Department previously said Yun had met with Pak in New York and traveled to Pyongyang in June to discuss the release of Otto Warmbier, the American student imprisoned in North Korea who died soon after his return to the United States.
The United States and South Korea remain technically at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
LOS ANGELES: A California city has agreed to pay $85,000 (72,000 euros) to settle a lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman whose hijab was forcibly removed by the police.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, (CAIR) which announced the settlement on Thursday, had sued the city of Long Beach on behalf of Kirsty Powell, an African-American Muslim, “after police officers forcibly removed her hijab in view of other male officers and dozens of inmates.”
Powell, who wears the head covering “as part of her religious beliefs,” was “forced to spend the entire night exposed in custody and described the experience as deeply traumatizing,” the rights group said.
Powell was arrested during a traffic stop in May 2015 on outstanding warrants that were since cleared.
Long Beach voted Tuesday to approve the settlement, CAIR said, adding that nearby communities have already adopted policies protecting religious headwear in detention following similar lawsuits.
Now female officers are required to remove the headscarves of female inmates “when necessary for officer safety,” and away from male officers and inmates, Long Beach assistant city attorney Monte Machit told the Los Angeles Times.
During the arrest officers told Powell that she had to remove her hijab.
Powell was denied requests for a female officer to search her, and was denied requests to wear her hijab in custody.
“I would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience,” Powell said when the suit was filed last year, according to CAIR.
BEIJING: China urged the United States and North Korea on Friday to be “cautious” with their words and actions after the two sides stepped up their bellicose rhetoric over Pyongyang’s weapons program.
Responding to a question about North Korea threatening to fire missiles toward Guam and US President Donald Trump’s tough warnings against Pyongyang, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement that the two nations should seek to “ease tensions.”
TUBAN, Indonesia: Indonesia has urged officials to stand up to mob pressure after Muslim and nationalist protesters called for a 30-meter-tall (100-ft-) statue of a Chinese deity erected in a temple complex in an East Java town to be torn down.
The brightly-painted statue of Guan Yu, a former general who is worshipped by some Chinese, was inaugurated in July in a temple complex in the fishing town of Tuban and is claimed to be Southeast Asia’s tallest such representation of the deity.
The statue in Tuban, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the city of Surabaya, has been partially covered up after the protests, provoking both praise and ridicule on social media in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
“If they ask for the statue to be torn down, authorities cannot bow to such pressure,” Teten Masduki, chief of staff to President Joko Widodo, told reporters.
Protesters demonstrated this week outside Surabaya’s parliament against the statue, some wearing paramilitary-style outfits and waving placards that read “Demolish It” and “We are not worshippers of idols.”
Allowing a depiction of a foreign general was “a symbol of treason to this nation,” an unnamed protester said in a video of the rally on news portal Kompas.com.
Officials of the Kwan Sing Bio Temple in Tuban declined to comment, but media have quoted residents as saying the statue was good for tourism.
Indonesia is a secular state whose constitution enshrines religious freedom and diversity, but there are concerns that rising intolerance threatens its reputation for moderate Islam.
Muslims form about 85 percent of the population, but there are also substantial Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other minorities.
Religious tension has soared this year after Islamist-led rallies saw Jakarta’s incumbent governor, a member of a so-called double minority who is ethnic Chinese and Christian, put on trial during city elections over Qur’an insult allegations.
Basuki TjaHajja Purnama was later jailed for two years for blasphemy, a sentence rights groups and international bodies condemned as unfair and politicized.
The protests against the statue were primarily about nationalism, said Suli Da’im, a lawmaker in East Java.
“What they were protesting about is that the statue did not represent their general or commander,” he said, adding that a permit for the statue had also not yet been approved.
The fate of the statue, reported to have cost 2.5 billion rupiah ($190,000) to build, has sparked sparring on social media.
“Praise be to God, the noisy fighting in social media succeeded in ensuring the idolatrous statue has been covered. I hope it will soon be taken down,” Muhammad Syahrir, using the handle @Muhamma37029013, said on social network Twitter.
Another Twitter user ridiculed the protesters.
“Like they have nothing else to do but to protest against a statue,” said Paring Waluyo, under the handle @paringwaluyo. “Instead they should be protesting about Tuban being among the poor regencies of East Java.”