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After London fire, 600 tower blocks thought to have similar cladding

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-06-22 16:05
ID: 
1498139169206055000

LONDON: An estimated 600 high-rise buildings in England contain cladding similar to that used on a London tower block which caught fire, killing at least 79 people, officials said on Thursday.
Flames spread rapidly up the 24-story residential Grenfell Tower last week, trapping people inside, in what was Britain’s worst blaze since World War Two. Exterior cladding added during a refurbishment may have played a part, residents have said.
The disaster in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea heaped pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, already fighting for her political survival after her party lost its parliamentary majority is this month’s snap election.
The Grenfell tragedy has acted as a focal point for anger at local authority funding cuts. There has been accusations of criminal negligence and the government faces an uphill task to rehome people within the country’s stretched social housing scheme.
“The estimate provided to us by councils is that there are approximately 600 high-rise buildings with similar cladding,” May’s spokeswoman told reporters. Government had no estimates yet for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, she said.
“In terms of the people who are living in those buildings, we will do a further test to make sure the buildings are safe — obviously nobody will be living in buildings that are unsafe.”
The spokeswoman said people would be rehoused if necessary.
Earlier May announced that cladding used on some buildings had been found to be combustible. Her spokeswoman said three had tested as combustible.
“(We) should of course be careful on speculating what caused this fire, but as a precaution the government has arranged to test cladding on all relevant tower blocks,” May told parliament.
“I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible.”
She said local authorities and fire services were taking steps to make affected buildings safe and to inform residents.
May has launched a public inquiry into the fire and police have announced a criminal investigation.
May said tests on the cladding of Grenfell Tower would be made public in the next 48 hours.
Leaders of the council in the London borough of Camden said it would remove external cladding panels from five tower blocks on a local estate after finding they were not to the standard it had commissioned.
The council said it was informing the contractor which installed the cladding, made up of aluminum panels with a polyethylene core, that it was taking urgent legal advice.
It said that until the panels have all been removed, there will be round-the-clock fire safety patrols on the estate.
“This has been a wake-up call for the whole country,” said Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party.
“Residents of tower blocks all over the country are concerned, worried and frightened for their own safety. What we need is a step change in our attitude toward housing in this country.”
After apologizing for a slow state response to the fire, May said it was right that Nicholas Holgate, chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council, had resigned. He said he was forced out by the government.

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UK interior minister: Britain facing a new phase of terror

Author: 
Associated Press
Thu, 2017-06-22 03:00
ID: 
1498138980616021200

LONDON: Britain’s interior minister says the country has entered a new phase of global terrorism.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the House of Commons on Thursday that 13 plots linked to or inspired by Islamist extremists were foiled between June 2013 and the Westminster Bridge attack in March this year. She says five plots have been prevented since March.
Rudd says that “we now believe we’re experiencing a new trend in the threat we face.”
Rudd says more must be done to tackle the extremists who want to “radicalize and weaponized” young people in Britain.
Security services have been warning for months that UK nationals who have traveled to fight with the Daesh group pose a danger to Britain when they return home.

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Suicide car bomb in southern Afghanistan kills at least 29

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By MIRWAIS KHAN and AMIR SHAH | AP
Thu, 2017-06-22 03:00
ID: 
1498131692055179100

KANDAHAR: A huge suicide car bombing struck Thursday outside a bank in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, targeting Afghan troops and government employees waiting to collect their salaries ahead of a major Muslim holiday and killing at least 29 people, officials said.
Hayatullah Hayat, the provincial governor in Helmand, said most of the casualties were civilians. The explosion near the Kabul Bank in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah also wounded at least 60 people, he said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Helmand has been at the center of bitter battles between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, aided by NATO troops. The insurgents, believed to control nearly 80 percent of the province’s countryside, have increasingly been pressing a push onto Lashkar Gah and its environs in efforts to take the city.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have overrun Helmand’s key Sangin district, where both British and US troops had fought for years to keep them at bay.
The attacker struck as scores of people, many of them Afghan soldiers or civil servants, were waiting near the Kabul Bank to collect their salaries ahead of the Eid -al-Fitr holiday, which follows the holy month of Ramdan, which is expected to end later this weekend.
Esmatullah, an Afghan border policeman, who was at the scene of the explosion said the noise from the blast was deafening. He said many are missing in the ensuing chaos as witnesses, survivors and ambulances struggled to ferry first the most seriously wounded to hospital.
“We are taking children to the hospital,” said Esmatullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
Twelve-year-old Hosnia, was crying outside the bank as she searched for her father who had brought her to buy shoes ahead of the Muslim holiday.
“I couldn’t find anyone, my brother and my father,” she said. “My father told me he will take me to buy shoes. We came here and then there was the explosion.”
Helmand is considered a key region because it is one of the largest opium producing provinces for the Taliban, who charge opium traffickers a hefty tax to move their contraband to market. Corrupt government officials also benefit from the production and trade of opium, the raw material used to make heroin.
Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium-producing country, producing more than all other opium-producing countries combined, according to United Nations estimate.
Meanwhile, a militant attack the previous night inside a mosque in the country’s east killed two members of the local council.
Salim Sallhe, spokesman for the provincial governor in eastern Logar, said gunmen opened fire at worshippers during prayers at a mosque in Baraki district on Wednesday night. Two other local officials were wounded by the gunfire.
Sallhe said police are investigating. No group claimed the attack but Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the insurgents were behind the shooting.

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Heavy fighting in northeastern Congo, several wounded — residents

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-06-22 12:32
ID: 
1498126902044695400

KINSHASA: Exchanges of heavy weapons fire erupted in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday between the army and militia fighters, and several students sitting exams were wounded in an explosion at a school, residents said.
The fighting in and around the city of Beni between Congo’s army and what is believed to be a new coalition of armed groups, the National Movement of Revolutionaries (MNR), erupted early in the morning and kept residents trapped in their homes, local activist Teddy Kataliko said.
Gilbert Kambale, another local activist, said that the bodies of three militia fighters were lying on the street, not far from the mayor’s office. An army spokesman in the zone said: “The situation is not good,” but declined to comment further.
The fighting followed a breakout by more than 900 inmates, many suspected militiamen, from Beni’s main prison this month — one of a series of mass jailbreaks that has underlined the security situation further since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate in December.
Kataliko and Kambale also said unidentified assailants set off an explosive device at a local secondary school, wounding several students sitting for exams. A hospital source said at least three student were injured in the blast.
Eastern Congo contains dozens of armed groups that prey on locals and exploit mineral reserves. Millions died there between 1996 and 2003 in a regional conflict from violence, hunger and disease.

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Removing Assad no longer priority in Syria: Macron

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-06-22 12:11
ID: 
1498126716114677900

PARIS: France no longer sees the departure of President Bashar Assad as a priority in the Syrian conflict, President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday, making the policy official for the first time.
The new French leader said instead that fighting jihadists such as the Daesh group had to be the international community’s number one goal in a conflict that grew out of protests against the Syrian president in 2011 but has since become increasingly complex and multifaceted.
“The real change I’ve made on this question, is that I haven’t said the deposing of Bashar Assad is a prerequisite for everything,” Macron said in an interview with several European newspapers, including Britain’s Guardian, Spain’s El Pais and Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
“Because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor,” said the French president, who took office last month.
“My line is clear: one, a total fight against terrorist groups. They are our enemies… We need the cooperation of everyone to eradicate them, particularly Russia. Two: stability in Syria, because I don’t want a failed state.”
Macron said the international community had made a “collective error” in thinking the conflict could be solved “only with military force,” adding: “My deep conviction is that we need a political and diplomatic roadmap.”
But he repeated his warning that the use of chemical weapons and the violation of humanitarian corridors set up to deliver aid to desperate Syrian civilians were “red lines” and that France would be willing to act alone in response.
France was among Western nations pushing most vocally for Assad to go at the start of the conflict, which has since left more than 320,000 people dead and forced millions from their homes.

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China needs patience to fight costly war against soil pollution -govt

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-06-22 10:21
ID: 
1498123537984486100

BEIJING: China must show patience in its “long war” against widespread soil pollution, the environment ministry said this week, with the country facing a clean-up bill that could reach as high as 1 trillion yuan ($146.39 billion).
Beijing has promised to draw up new policies and set up a dedicated fund to deal with large stretches of polluted soil caused by overmining, industrial wastewater runoffs or excessive pesticide and fertilizer use.
But it said in an action plan published last year that it would aim to “stabilize” worsening soil pollution by the end of this decade and only start to make improvements by 2030.
Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, Qiu Qiwen, head of the soil environment department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), said the cost of cleaning up one mu (0.066 hectares) of polluted farmland in China could reach as much as 20,000 yuan ($2,928.86).
According to the last nationwide survey published in 2013, about 50 million mu (3.33 million hectares) of China’s farmland — an area the size of Belgium — was too polluted to grow crops. That would put total clean-up costs at 1 trillion yuan.
“Soil pollution does not form overnight and the problem cannot be solved overnight,” said Qiu, adding that China “must have patience to fight the long war ahead.”
Analysts say China’s soil clean-up will provide lucrative business opportunities for a growing number of specialist environmental firms, but it is still unclear who will foot the bill, especially in the countryside.
Qiu said Beijing has already allocated a budget of 14.6 billion yuan to cover nationwide soil remediation projects from last year until the end of the first half of 2017.
One firm already benefiting from that fund is Beijing Geoenviron Engineering & Technology, which said last month that a 121.9 million yuan project in southwest China to remediate soil contaminated by heavy metals would be financed by the government.
“Treating and recovering polluted soil is very difficult and costly, and requires a long cycle,” Qiu said.
He said China would publish the results of its latest survey on soil pollution after 2020. It will also identify polluted farmland and assess its impact on the quality of agricultural products by the end of next year.
Some of the measures being considered to clean up China’s soil include rotating crops and turning farmland into forest, Qiu said. ($1 = 6.8310 yuan)

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EU leaders to weigh terrorism, defense ties, migration

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-06-22 03:00
ID: 
1498123023394434500

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders are gathering to weigh measures to tackle terrorism, closer defense ties and migration, convinced that anti-EU sentiment and support for populist parties are waning.
Before the two-day meeting in Brussels starting Thursday, summit chairman Donald Tusk trumpeted the resurgence of the EU, even as Britain launched talks this week on leaving.
Tusk told the leaders in an invitation letter that after a series of election defeats for anti-migrant parties, notably in France, the EU is “slowly turning the corner.”
He said “we are witnessing the return of the EU rather as a solution, not a problem.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to praise the good atmosphere at Monday’s Brexit talks, and explain how to protect the rights of citizens hit by Britain’s departure.

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Indian troops kills 3 rebels, protester in disputed Kashmir

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-06-22 03:00
ID: 
1498122647114418600

INDIA: Government forces killed three suspected Kashmiri rebels in fighting in the disputed region Thursday and fatally shot a rock-throwing protester during an ensuing rally demanding an end to Indian rule, officials said.
The militants were killed following a nightlong exchange of gunfire after police and soldiers cordoned off southern Kakpora village, said army spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia. An Indian army officer was wounded.
Residents said troops used explosives to target the house the militants were firing from and set it on fire. Police recovered the charred bodies of the three militants.
Hundreds of residents defied the security lockdown around the village and clashed with government forces in an attempt to help the trapped militants escape.
As the news of the killings spread, thousands of people assembled in Kakpora for funeral prayers of the slain militants. Thousands more hit the streets in neighboring Awantipora town, where protesters blocked a key highway connecting the Kashmir Valley with India while chanting slogans “Go India, go back” and “We want freedom.”
Government forces fired at rock-throwing protesters, killing a man and injuring at least five others, according to witnesses and a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.
On Wednesday, Indian troops killed two Kashmiri rebels in a gunbattle in northern Sopore area.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that “tough action” would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among the region’s mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.

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Gunmen open fire inside Afghan mosque, killing 2 officials

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-06-22 03:00
ID: 
1498122593044410500

KABUL: An Afghan official says a militant attack the previous night inside a mosque in the country’s east has killed two members of the local council.
Salim Sallhe, spokesman for the provincial governor in Logar, says gunmen opened fire at worshippers during prayers at a mosque in Baraki district on Wednesday night. Two other local officials were wounded by the gunfire.
Sallhe says police are investigating. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the insurgents were behind the shooting.
In other violence in Logar, Nasir Ghayrat, chief of the provincial conical, says a man in Mohammad Agha district killed his wife on Thursday with an axe after accusing her of adultery.

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4 detained in raids linked to Belgian rail station attack

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-06-22 03:00
ID: 
1498121421064342200

BRUSSELS: Belgian authorities say police have detained four people in a series of raids in Brussels linked to the failed bombing at a rail station this week.
The federal prosecutor’s office said Thursday that the four were picked up during searches in the Molenbeek neighborhood, where many extremists have lived or transited, as well as in Anderlecht and Koekelberg.
It didn’t say whether anything had been seized in the raids, and declined to provide further details.
The raids come after a man blew up a device Tuesday at Brussels Central Station that failed to fully detonate. He was then fatally shot by soldiers. No one else was hurt.
Belgium has been on high alert since suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and a subway station last year.

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