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Updated 1 February 2016 - 4 stories|
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7.3 quake & multiple aftershocks
strike Russia’s far eastern Kamchatka Region
A strong, deep 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Russia’s far eastern
Kamchatka peninsula on Saturday, the US Geological Survey reported.
The quake hit 106 kilometers north of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, the
capital city of Russia’s Kamchatka Krai.
The depth of the earthquake was reported at 153 kilometers. There
have been no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties. No
tsunami warning has been issued.
The area was hit with at least seven aftershocks since the event,
Kamchatka’s Geophysical Service said. Five of them measured 2.0 and
above, according to a spokesman. The remaining too - 4.5 and 5.2,
Rescue crews are searching and inspecting buildings, TASS quoted an
emergency services spokesperson as saying. “There have been no
reports of damage yet,” Yulia Ananyeva said. “We saw furniture and
doors shake as well as swinging chandeliers. Our office is one the
She added that the buildings in the area were built to withstand a
magnitude 9 quake.
Meanwhile on social media, frightened witnesses posted descriptions
of the strong tremors felt in the region.
Terrified shoppers quickly evacuated one of the local malls when
people felt tremors from the quake. One resident andre_prilepsky
posted a picture showing people waiting outside in the snow without
Ksenya Maksimova tweeted about the “unpleasant feeling … when
everything is shaking,” while several other young Twitter users said
they “almost died of fright.”
Others were more enthusiastic about their first time in a strong
“Cool earthquake! Our telly nearly fell over!” Senya Mikhaylitskaya
tweeted, adding that she and her friend were about to rush into the
street when it all ended.
“The earthquake broke our bottle of Bacardi,” stated Marina Brovkina,
posting a pic of the shattered bottle of booze.
On Instragram, shamans_wood described the events as “action
Kamchatka-style,” saying that the quake actually felt different in
different parts of the city – from the sights and sounds of bouncing
cars, wailing sirens, and even visibly shaking houses, to almost no
When a journalist posted a comment asking user svetakov1 if she had
any video of the quake, she replied: “Taking a video is the last
thing you think about in such moments. I was thinking about whether
I should pull my cat from under the cupboard [if] she’s dying there
quietly … I hate those quakes.”
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Was Zika outbreak caused by
release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Brazil?
The Zika virus outbreak currently gripping the Americas could have
been sparked by the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in
2012, critics say.
The insects were engineered by biotechnology experts to combat the
spread of dengue fever and other diseases and released into the
general population of Brazil in 2012.
But with the World Health Organisation(WHO) now meeting in Geneva to
desperately discuss cures for the Zika virus, speculation has
mounted as to the cause of this sudden outbreak.
The Zika virus was first discovered in the 1950s but the recent
outbreak has escalated alarmingly, causing birth defects and a range
of health problems in South and central America.
The first cases were reported in Brazil last May with up to 1.5
million now thought people affected by the virus which is spread by
mosquitoes endemic to Latin America.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito sub-species that carries both the Zika
virus and dengue was the type targeted with genetically modified
The aim was to release only male Aedes mosquitoes into the wild and
they would in turn produce offspring with their virus carrying
This offspring would then die off before breeding age due to the GM
coding in their genes.
But experts expressed concerns about the programme at the time of
its inception, arguing that further studies were needed on the
On Saturday, senior health experts shockingly announced that the
outbreak could pose a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola
epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Africa.
"In many ways the Zika outbreak is worse than the Ebola epidemic of
2014-15," Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome trust told The
"Most virus carriers are symptomless.
"It is a silent infection in a group of highly vulnerable
individuals – pregnant women – that is associated with a horrible
outcome for their babies.”
The UK is unlikely to be affected by the outbreak because the virus
carrying mosquitoes could not survive the climate.
But women returning from affected areas are warned to postpone
trying for a baby for at least a month in case they have been
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Wars and Rumors of Wars
Syria: The story
of the conflict
More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half
years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests
before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million
others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to
President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each
other - as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.
This is the story of the civil war so far, in eight short chapters.
1. Uprising turns violent
Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of
Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted
revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened
fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.
The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad's
resignation. The government's use of force to crush the dissent
merely hardened the protesters' resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of
thousands were taking to the streets across the country.
Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to
defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their
2. Descent into civil war
Violence escalated and the country descended into civil war as rebel
brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of
cities, towns and the countryside. Fighting reached the capital
Damascus and second city of Aleppo in 2012.
By June 2013, the UN said 90,000 people had been killed in the
conflict. By August 2015, that figure had climbed to 250,000,
according to activists and the UN.
The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or
against Mr Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the
country's Sunni majority against the president's Shia Alawite sect,
and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist
group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension.
source for map of the war zone.
3. War crimes
A UN commission of inquiry has evidence that all parties to the
conflict have committed war crimes - including murder, torture, rape
and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused of using
civilian suffering - such as blocking access to food, water and
health services through sieges - as a method of war.
The UN Security Council has demanded all parties end the
indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, but civilians
continue to die in their thousands. Many have been killed by barrel
bombs dropped by government aircraft on gatherings in rebel-held
areas - attacks which the UN says may constitute massacres.
IS has also been accused by the UN of waging a campaign of terror.
It has inflicted severe punishments on those who transgress or
refuse to accept its rules, including hundreds of public executions
and amputations. Its fighters have also carried out mass killings of
rival armed groups, members of the security forces and religious
minorities, and beheaded hostages, including several Westerners.
4. Chemical weapons
Hundreds of people were killed in August 2013 after rockets filled
with the nerve agent sarin were fired at several suburbs of
Damascus. Western powers said it could only have been carried out by
Syria's government, but the government blamed rebel forces.
Facing the prospect of US military intervention, President Assad
agreed to the complete removal and destruction of Syria's chemical
The operation was completed the following year, but the Organization
for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has continued to
document the use of toxic chemicals in the conflict. Investigators
found chlorine was used "systematically and repeatedly" in deadly
attacks on rebel-held areas between April and July 2014.
IS has also been accused of using homemade chemical weapons,
including sulphur mustard. The OPCW said the blister agent was used
in an attack on the northern town of Marea in August 2015 that
killed a baby.
5. Humanitarian crisis
More than 4.5 million people have fled Syria since the start of the
conflict, most of them women and children. Neighboring Lebanon,
Jordan and Turkey have struggled to cope with one of the largest
refugee exoduses in recent history. About 10% of Syrian refugees
have sought safety in Europe, sowing political divisions as
countries argue over sharing the burden.
A further 6.5 million people are internally displaced inside Syria,
1.2 million were driven from their homes in 2015 alone.
The UN says it will need $3.2bn to help the 13.5 million people,
including 6 million children, who will require some form of
humanitarian assistance inside Syria in 2016. About 70% of the
population is without access to adequate drinking water, one in
three people are unable to meet their basic food needs, and more
than 2 million children are out of school, and four out of five
people live in poverty.
The warring parties have compounded the problems by refusing
humanitarian agencies access to civilians in need. Up to 4.5 million
people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly
400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to
6. Rebels and the rise of the jihadists
The armed rebellion has evolved significantly since its inception.
Secular moderates are now outnumbered by Islamists and jihadists,
whose brutal tactics have caused global outrage.
So-called Islamic State has capitalized on the chaos and taken
control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq, where it proclaimed the
creation of a "caliphate" in June 2014. Its many foreign fighters
are involved in a "war within a war" in Syria, battling rebels and
rival jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, as well as
government and Kurdish forces.
In September 2014, a US-led coalition launched air strikes inside
Syria in an effort to "degrade and ultimately destroy" IS. But the
coalition has avoided attacks that might benefit Mr Assad's forces.
Russia began an air campaign targeting "terrorists" in Syria a year
later, but opposition activists say its strikes have mostly killed
Western-backed rebels and civilians.
In the political arena, opposition groups are also deeply divided,
with rival alliances battling for supremacy. The most prominent is
the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition
Forces, backed by several Western and Gulf Arab states. However, the
exile group has little influence on the ground in Syria and its
primacy is rejected by many opponents of Mr Assad.
source for detailed map of UK, Russian and US-led strikes in
7. Peace efforts
With neither side able to inflict a decisive defeat on the other,
the international community long ago concluded that only a political
solution could end the conflict in Syria. The UN Security Council
has called for the implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique,
which envisages a transitional governing body with full executive
powers "formed on the basis of mutual consent".
Talks in early 2014, known as Geneva II, broke down after only two
rounds, with then-UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi blaming the
Syrian government's refusal to discuss opposition demands.
Mr Brahimi's successor, Staffan de Mistura, focused on establishing
a series of local ceasefires. His plan for a "freeze zone" in Aleppo
was rejected, but a three-year siege of the Homs suburb of al-Wair
was successfully brought to an end in December 2015.
At the same time, the conflict with IS lent fresh impetus to the
search for a political solution in Syria. The US and Russia led
efforts to get representatives of the government and the opposition
to attend "proximity talks" in Geneva in January 2016 to discuss a
Security Council-endorsed road map for peace, including a ceasefire
and a transitional period ending with elections.
8. Proxy war
What began as another Arab Spring uprising against an autocratic
ruler has mushroomed into a brutal proxy war that has drawn in
regional and world powers.
Iran and Russia have propped up the Alawite-led government of
President Assad and gradually increased their support. Tehran is
believed to be spending billions of dollars a year to bolster Mr
Assad, providing military advisers and subsidized weapons, as well
as lines of credit and oil transfers. Russia has meanwhile launched
an air campaign against Mr Assad's opponents.
The Syrian government has also enjoyed the support of Lebanon's Shia
Islamist Hezbollah movement, whose fighters have provided important
battlefield support since 2013.
The Sunni-dominated opposition has, meanwhile, attracted varying
degrees of support from its international backers - Turkey, Saudi
Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, along with the US, UK and France.
Until late 2015, rebel appeals for anti-aircraft weapons to stop
devastating government air strikes were rejected by the US and its
allies, amid concern that they might end up in the hands of jihadist
militants. A US programme to train and arm 5,000 rebels to take the
fight to IS on the ground also suffered a series of setbacks before
Produced by Lucy Rodgers, David Gritten, James Offer and Patrick
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take urgent measures to avert starvation
The current rain season has been nothing short of a disaster.
Zimbabwe is facing the horrifying spectre of an unprecedented famine
largely caused by the El Nino weather conditions coupled with a very
poor disaster management system in the country. The Zanu PF regime
appears clueless in the face of a massive food shortage that will
affect no less than three (3) million people. As if this was not
enough, the regime has not yet declared a state of national
emergency in order to promptly and effectively harness the necessary
resources that are now urgently needed to avert mass starvation.
The MDC is gravely concerned by the casual and rather lackadaisical
attitude of the Zanu PF government in handling the impending severe
food shortage. Even though it is now abundantly clear that the
country will need to import maize to feed about three (3) million
people, there are no concrete plans that have been activated to
ensure that our grain silos are timeously re-stocked. We note, with
trepidation, that GMB grain silos at all major depots such as Lion’s
Den, Chinhoyi, Aspindale and Banket are still empty and in a serious
state of disrepair.
A few days ago, the State-controlled media reported that the
government has arranged a US$200 million credit facility with a
certain foreign import-export bank but the reality on the ground is
that people are already starving; particularly in the southern
provinces of Masvingo, Matebelend South and Matebeleland North. As
the MDC, we would like to call upon President Robert Mugabe not to
waste any more time before his government declares a state of
emergency. It doesn’t make good planning sense for the government to
wait until people start starving before it treats the impeding
drought with the seriousness that it obviously deserves.
The Zanu PF regime should also take prompt measures to rectify the
far-reaching deficiencies in its much-talked about land reform
program. Put simply, all those people who are not productively
utilising the land that was allocated to them should have that land
taken away from them and re-distributed to Zimbabweans who will be
able to use the land more effectively and productively. Because of
the ravages brought about by climate change, our farmers should
deliberately move away from rain-fed agriculture and focus more on
irrigation technology. There are more than 11 000 dams in Zimbabwe
and thus, we shouldn’t have any excuse for failing to grow enough
food crops to feed our rather small population of only 13 million
The effects of global warming cannot be wished away. Already,
weather experts have predicted that the entire southern African
region is going to experience below normal rainfall for the next
three or four farming seasons. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the
Zanu PF government to channel more resources to enhance the
country’s irrigation facilities. Zimbabwe is not at war with any
country and neither are we facing any serious security threat.
Reports that both the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) as well as the
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are planning to recruit more than 30
000 new recruits each are therefore quite depressing and
unfortunate. Instead of wasting our limited financial and material
resources on building up a massive security system, the Zanu PF
government should, instead, focus more on feeding the millions of
starving people and also resuscitating the ailing economy. The
government should prioritise the importation of grain rather than
utilising our limited financial resources in purchasing expensive
motor vehicles for government ministers and other regime
President Robert Mugabe should also try to spend more time in the
country attending to pressing national issues rather than travelling
from one foreign destination to another. Zimbabwe needs a hands-on
administration that is prepared to bite the bullet and take
immediate corrective action to avert any further bleeding of the
comatose economy. Amongst other actions, the government should
ruthlessly clamp down on corruption in both the public and private
sectors. The Masvingo birthday jamboree that has been planned for
the soon to be 92 years old ruler, Robert Mugabe, should be
cancelled. The US$800 000 that has been budgeted for this useless
and expensive birthday celebration should be channelled towards the
urgent importation of maize. It is high time that the extravagant
Zanu PF regime takes a few lessons from President John Magufuli of
Tanzania. President Magufuli is only 56 years old but there is
absolutely no doubt that the 92 year old President Mugabe has got a
lot to learn from the Magufulis of this world.
It is actually humiliating to note that only less than two decades
ago, Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa; capable
of feeding no less than 250 million people. Thanks to the Zanu PF
–induced violent and chaotic land reform program, Zimbabwe is now
effectively a basket case; struggling to feed a small population of
13 million people. What a shame! What a fall from grace!
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