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Indonesia's Semeru volcano erupts, spews huge ash cloud

Indonesia's Semeru volcano erupts, spews huge ash cloud

Indonesia’s highest volcano on Java island has spewed thick columns of ash, searing gas and lava down its slopes in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rainsBy AGOES BASOEKI Associated PressDecember 4, 2021, 7:50 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLUMAJANG, Indonesia — The highest volcano on Indonesia’s most densely populated island of Java spewed thick columns of ash, searing gas and lava down its slopes in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rains on Saturday. At least one villager died from burns and dozens were hospitalized.Mount Semeru’s eruption in Lumajang district in East Java province left several villages blanketed with falling ash.A thunderstorm and days of rain, which had eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the 3,676-meter (12,060-foot) Semeru, triggered an eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey center.He said flows of searing gas and lava traveled up to 800 meters (2,624 feet) to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday. People were advised to stay 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the crater’s mouth, the agency said.“Thick columns of ash have turned several villages to darkness,” said Lumajang district head Thoriqul Haq. Several hundred people were moved to temporary shelters or left for other safe areas, he said, adding that power blackout hampered the evacuation.The debris and lava mixed with the rainfall formed thick mud that destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighboring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge, Haq said.Despite an increase in activity since Wednesday, Semeru’s alert status has remained at the third highest of four levels since it began erupting last year, and Indonesia’s Volcanology Center for Geological Hazard Mitigation did not raise it this week, Lelono said.One man died from severe burns, and 41 others were hospitalized with burn injuries, said Indah Masdar, the deputy district head. She said two villagers were reported missing and several sand miners were trapped in isolated areas along the village river.Entire houses in Curah Kobokan village were damaged by volcanic debris, Masdar said.Television reports showed people screaming and running under a huge ash cloud, their faces wet from rain mixed with volcanic dust. The last time Semeru erupted in January, there were no casualties.Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.

Blinken doubles down on China warning over Taiwan: 'Terrible consequences' if Beijing strikes

Blinken doubles down on China warning over Taiwan: 'Terrible consequences' if Beijing strikes

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken fired a warning shot at China, saying any move to invade Taiwan would bring “terrible consequences.” Blinken spoke at the Reuters Next conference Friday when he shared his thoughts on China and the possible threat to Taiwan as tensions have continued to ramp up over the past few months. He reiterated the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan’s right to self-govern, which China has threatened with claims that the island is part of its territory. 
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a photo opportunity with Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu at the State Department, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool).

France's Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

France's Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — France’s president and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince held a joint phone call with Lebanon’s prime minister during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the kingdom on Saturday, in a significant gesture amid an unprecedented crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.During the calls with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Macron said France and Saudi Arabia expressed their commitment to Lebanon, despite Saudi Arabia’s uneasiness with Iran’s sway over the small Mediterranean country.Macron did not, however, say whether punitive measures targeting Lebanon by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations will be revoked. The kingdom withdrew its ambassador from Lebanon last month, with several Gulf states taking similar action to protest their frustration with Iran-backed Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanese politics. Riyadh also banned imports from Lebanon.The Lebanese information minister whose comments sparked the crisis resigned Friday, paving the way for the French leader to start dialogue with Saudi Arabia. Minister George Kordahi had criticized the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Kordahi, backed by Hezbollah, had refused to resign for weeks, prolonging the crisis that affected hundreds of Lebanese businesses.Hezbollah has been blamed for the recent paralysis that has plagued the Lebanese government following the group’s disapproval over the course of the investigation into a deadly blast at Beirut’s main port last year. Hezbollah has demanded the lead judge in the investigation be removed.Macron said during the call that he and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman relayed “a clear message Saudi Arabia and France want to be fully committed.”“We want to commit ourselves to supporting the Lebanese people and therefore do everything possible to ensure that trade and economic reopening can take place,” Macron told reporters in remarks before departing the kingdom.“We also want the (Lebanese) government to be able to work in a normal way and therefore to meet as soon as possible, and to carry out useful reforms,” he added.It was the first call between Mikati, who took office in September, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a traditional ally of Lebanon. Mikati said the call with the French and Saudi leaders “is an important step” toward restoring historic relations with Riyadh.The French president indicated that France and Saudi Arabia will work together to offer essential, humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, which is facing an unprecedented slew of economic crises brought on by failures in government and pervasive corruption.It marked another intervention by Macron to try and aid Lebanon, a nation that was once a French protectorate. It also marked the first call between the Saudi crown prince and Lebanon’s prime minister since Najib Mikati took office in September.Macron, 43, has consistently kept a line of communication open with the 36-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, including during times of international controversy. Most notably, the French president’s intervention was seen as key in 2017 in assisting Lebanon’s then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri to leave Saudi Arabia after allegedly being compelled to resign from his post during a visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.He acknowledged that relationship with the kingdom, saying that a large part of the future of the Gulf region is playing out in Saudi Arabia with its overwhelmingly youthful population in a country of over 30 million people. He noted Saudi Arabia’s demographic, economic, historical and religious weight, saying for these reasons “dialogue with Saudi Arabia is a necessity.”Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia was the final step in a two-day tour of three Gulf states. Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, the multiple crises in Lebanon and the ongoing war in Yemen were aired in the meetings.Earlier in the day, Macron was in Qatar, where he praised the tiny Gulf state’s role in assisting with evacuation efforts of European citizens out of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country over the summer.He said France and other EU countries are thinking about “having a common site to several European countries where our ambassadors or chargés d’affaires can be present” in Afghanistan. He stressed this would not signal political recognition or political dialogue with the Taliban.In Saudi Arabia, Macron met the crown prince in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, where the kingdom is in the midst of hosting its first ever Formula One race and a pop concert by Justin Bieber, despite calls by rights groups for a boycott. It’s the latest push by the young crown prince to showcase the social reforms he’s ushered in and been hailed for. Simultaneously, though, the prince has also spearheaded a pervasive crackdown on human rights activists and critics, culminating in the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018 in Turkey, an operation that stained the prince’s reputation abroad.Throughout his visit to the Gulf, Macron’s meetings also focused on the revived talks regarding Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, of which France is a party to. France, Germany and the United Kingdom have signaled the 2015 nuclear agreement — with minor tweaks — is the way forward with Iran. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had opposed the negotiated deal with Iran, though both have since held talks with Tehran to cool tensions.During Macron’s visit to the UAE on Friday, France announced the UAE is buying 80 upgraded Rafale warplanes in a deal worth 16 billion euros ($18 billion) that represents the largest-ever French weapons contract for export. The deal faced criticism by human rights groups concerned about the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen.———El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Masha Macpherson and Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris.

Gambia counts marble votes in 1st post-Jammeh election

Gambia counts marble votes in 1st post-Jammeh election

BANJUL, Gambia — Election officials started counting marble votes Saturday in Gambia after the polls closed in the country’s first presidential election in decades that does not include former dictator Yahya Jammeh, a milestone seen as a test of democracy in the West African country.Long lines of Gambians came to vote to exercise their democratic rights as demands for justice in the post-Jammeh era rise. Nearly 1 million registered voters were expected to drop marbles into one of six ballot bins, each adorned with the face and name of a candidate.The candidates include incumbent President Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in 2016 as an opposition leader.Barrow’s challengers are former mentor and head opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party; Mama Kandeh of Gambia Democratic Congress; Halifa Sallah of People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism; Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh of the National Unity Party; and Essa Mbye Faal, former lead counsel of Gambia’s truth commission, who was running as an independent.“We will never lose this election,” Barrow said after voting in Banjul. “I am a leader who is focused on development, and that development will continue in this country. I know in the next 24 hours my people will be celebrating in the streets.”Barrow stressed the Independent Electoral Commission must remain impartial.Darboe voted in Fajara, a neighborhood in Bakau, near the capital, using a walker due to health problems. Flanked by a huge escort, including his wives, he added his voice to calls for peaceful elections.“We all win if there is peaceful election,” he said.Independent Electoral Commission presiding officer Musa Mbye told The Associated Press that there were no major problems during the vote. IEC Chair Alieu Mommar Njie said election results would be announced by Monday.After polls closed, several officials started the counts by laying the marbles on wooden boards to mark 100 to 200 votes per board. Political party representatives and polling station heads also sign off on the vote count. This year, it will also then be put into an app developed for Gambia’s election tracking, aptly called Marble.All the presidential candidates vowed to strengthen the country’s tourism-dependent economy amid the coronavirus pandemic so fewer Gambians feel compelled to travel the dangerous migration route to Europe.While the 2016 election that removed Jammeh from power after 22 years saw Gambians go from fear to elation, many are still not satisfied with the progress the nation has made.“Since President Barrow came to power, the prices of food commodities kept rising. The average Gambian lives in poverty, so we want a candidate to be elected to address this problem,” Kebba Gaye, 23, said in the town of Wellingara. “We youths want to elect a leader that will respect and value our votes. A leader that will create employment for us.”In a nearby neighborhood, Marietou Bojang, 24, agreed on the need for change, saying people don’t have enough to eat.“I am voting because myself and other women are suffering silently. A bag of rice has drastically gone up,” she told the AP, adding that not enough has been done to fight corruption.Many Gambians want certainty that the new leaders will bring the tiny West African nation of about 2.4 million toward peace and justice.Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 in a bloodless coup, was voted out of office in 2016. After initially agreeing to step down, Jammeh resisted, and a six-week crisis saw neighboring West African countries prepare to send in troops to stage a military intervention. Jammeh was forced into exile and fled to Equatorial Guinea.Jammeh’s two-decade rule was marked by arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and summary executions that were revealed through dramatic testimony during Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission hearings that lasted for years.Last week, the commission handed its 17-volume report to President Barrow, urging him to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations are prosecuted. Barrow said he would do that.Still, many Gambians feel betrayed after Barrow’s National People’s Party reached a deal with the top figures of the former ruling party, despite Jammeh’s split with that party.Links to Jammeh are not only an issue for the current president. Opposition candidate Kandeh has been supported by a breakaway political faction that Jammeh formed during his exile in Equatorial Guinea. While Kandeh has kept silent about Jammeh’s possible return to Gambia, his allies are unequivocally saying that Jammeh would come back if they emerge victorious from the election.Of the other candidates, Sallah and Darboe are established politicians, but they face challenges from newcomers Faal and Ebrima Jammeh, who are making waves in urban areas.———Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal. AP reporter Mustapha Jallow in Banjul contributed.

Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

MOSCOW — Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video call Tuesday, the Kremlin said, as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border that’s seen as a sign of a potential invasion.Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed plans for the conversation to Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti and said it will take place Tuesday evening. “The presidents will decide themselves” how long their talk will last, he said Saturday.The White House did not immediately comment on the announcement.The last known call between the leaders was in July, when Biden pressed Putin to rein in Russia-based criminal hacking gangs launching ransomware attacks against the United States. Biden said the U.S. would take any necessary steps to protect critical infrastructure from any such attacks.Ransomware attacks have continued since then, though perhaps none has been as alarming as the one from May that targeted a major fuel pipeline and resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the U.S.Russia is more adamant than ever that the U.S. guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said this past week that Russia has no say in expansion plans by other countries or the alliance. Numerous former U.S. and NATO diplomats say any such Russian demand to Biden would be a nonstarter.U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.The risks for Putin of going through with such an invasion would be enormous.U.S. officials and former American diplomats say while the Russian president is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden said Friday.Ukrainian officials have said Russia could invade next month. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.Russia and Akhmetov have denied that any plot is underway, but the Russians have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United States.Biden is also expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian leader. This person was not authorized to comment publicly before the announcement of the call and spoke on the condition of anonymity.The Kremlin said Friday that Putin, during his call with Biden, would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Biden tried to head off the demand in comments to reporters Friday before leaving for a weekend stay at Camp David.“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said.White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration would coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She alluded to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954. Russia has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a 7-year conflict that has cost over 14,000 lives.“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”U.S.-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.His administration has imposed sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin for the Kremlin’s interference in U.S. elections, cyberactivity against American companies and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.When Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June, Biden warned that if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating.”———Madhani and Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

Police kill Palestinian attacker after Jerusalem stabbing

Police kill Palestinian attacker after Jerusalem stabbing

JERUSALEM — Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian after he stabbed and wounded an ultra-Orthodox Jew on Saturday near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, a tense and crowded area that is often the scene of demonstrations and clashes.A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground, and another appeared to show police with guns drawn preventing medics from reaching him, prompting calls for an investigation into possible excessive use of force.The Magen David Adom emergency service said it treated an ultra-Orthodox man in his 20s who was stabbed, saying he was in moderate to severe condition.Israeli police released surveillance video in which the attacker can be seen stabbing the Jewish man and then trying to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and falling to the ground. Police identified the attacker as a 25-year-old from Salfit, in the occupied West Bank.“The awareness and quick reactions by the police brought about the neutralization of the terrorist,” police said in a statement. Police could later be seen carrying the body away on a stretcher.Large numbers of security forces were deployed to the area, where they briefly clashed with a crowd of young Palestinians before dispersing them with tear gas and stun grenades.Damascus Gate was the epicenter of protests and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police last spring, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The unrest spread to other parts of the city, including a nearby holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims, eventually helping to ignite the 11-day Gaza war.The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, to include the West Bank and Gaza.There have been dozens of attacks in recent years in and around the Old City, nearly all carried out by individual Palestinians with no known links to armed groups. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, praised Saturday’s attack but did not take responsibility for it.The latest attack came a little over a week after a Hamas militant opened fire in the Old City, killing an Israeli and wounding four others before being fatally shot by police. It was unclear if Hamas leaders had ordered the attack or if the man acted alone.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed support for the police after Saturday’s attack, saying they “acted quickly and with great determination, as expected from police in Israel, against a terrorist who tried to murder an Israeli citizen.”But the video showing the assailant being shot while on the ground prompted calls for an investigation.Esawi Frej, a left-wing Arab minister in Israel’s government, which includes factions from across the political spectrum, said the shooting should be investigated. “Assailants must be shot to save human life, not to have their own lives taken when they no longer pose a threat,” he tweeted.Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.In one widely-publicized case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.In a more recent case, a Border Police officer was charged with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.The indictment came just over a year after the shooting of Eyad Hallaq, whose family has criticized Israel’s investigation into the killing and called for much tougher charges. The shooting has drawn comparisons to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.Rights groups say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not even summoned for questioning.

Protesting Orthodox priest heckles Pope on Greece visit

Protesting Orthodox priest heckles Pope on Greece visit

Pope Francis was heckled by an elderly priest as he arrived for a meeting in Athens with the head of the country’s Orthodox churchBy ILIANA MIER Associated PressDecember 4, 2021, 4:49 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleATHENS, Greece — Pope Francis was heckled by an elderly Greek Orthodox priest on Saturday as he arrived for a meeting with the head of the country’s Orthodox Church, evidence of the lingering distrust between some Orthodox and Catholics 1,200 years after Christianity was cleaved in half.“Pope, you are a heretic!” the priest shouted three times as Francis arrived at the residence of Archbishop Ieronymos in the Greek capital of Athens. The protester fell to the ground as police led him away, and Francis appeared not to notice as he walked into the residence for his private meeting with the Orthodox leader.The incident followed small protests against the pope on his previous stop, the island of Cyprus, which is also predominantly Christian Orthodox.But inside Ieronymos’ residence, the two Christian leaders could not have been more friendly with one another and in synch in their shared call for Christians to work together to protect the environment and care for migrants. In contrast to the lone heckling priest, Ieronymos welcomed Francis “with a feeling of honor and fraternity.”Francis’ state visit to Greece comes 20 years after St. John Paul II made the first such visit to Greece since the Great Schism, and used the occasion to apologize for the sins “by action or omission” committed by Catholics against Orthodox over the centuries. Francis renewed that apology Saturday in front of Ieronymos and other Orthodox prelates.Ieronymos told Francis on Saturday that he shared the pope’s vision to forge strong ties to face global challenges like the migration crisis and climate change.“If the world community, the leaders of powerful states, and international organizations do not take bold decisions, the ever-threatening presence of vulnerable refugee women and children will continue to grow globally,” Ieronymos warned. “Together we must shake the rocks and the walls against the intransigence of the powerful of the Earth.”

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