Iranian oil tanker wreck produces 2 slicks in East China Sea

An Iranian oil tanker that sank in the East China Sea has left two oil slicks covering a combined 109 square kms (42 square miles), the Chinese government said late on Tuesday, as maritime police scour the area for damage, Reuters reports.

Satellite imaging showed a slick of 69 square kms (26.6 square miles) and a second 40 square km (15.4 square mile) slick, which is less thick and not as concentrated, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said in a statement.

The large tanker Sanchi (IMO:9356608) sank in the worst oil ship disaster in decades on Sunday, raising worries about damage to the marine ecosystem.

The vessel’s crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis are all believed to have perished in the incident.

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The SOA said vessels have taken 31 water samples in the area around the wreck containing black grease with heavy oil smells, and a concentration of petroleum that exceeds some seawater quality standard limits.

The news comes as clean-up teams continue to monitor the wreck area to assess the distribution and drift of the oil spill and the ecological impact.

The tanker had been adrift and ablaze after crashing into the freighter CF Crystal (IMO:9497050) on Jan. 6. Strong winds pushed it away from the Chinese coast, where the incident happened, and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The ship, which was carrying 136,000 tonnes or almost a million barrels of condensate – an ultra-light, highly flammable crude oil – sank after several explosions weakened the hull.

On Tuesday, Japan’s environment ministry said it doesn’t see much chance that the spill will reach its shores.

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Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria and South Sudan

Britain announced on Tuesday it would be putting girls and women at the heart of its work to end conflict in nine countries including Iraq, Nigeria and South Sudan, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

“Empowering women and girls … improves peace and stability, economic growth and poverty reduction,” senior ministers said in a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

The ministers said women and girls were disproportionately affected by conflict, but were also part of the solution.

Evidence shows peace agreements are more likely to last when women are involved, according to the five-year plan launched late Tuesday.

“Without question women must have a seat at the table,” Foreign Office minister Tariq Ahmad said in a statement.

“We know that when women and girls participate in political processes, conflict resolution and mediation their contribution helps to build a more sustainable peace.”

Britain pledged to tackle obstacles to women’s leadership and political participation, including entrenched patriarchal views, violence and intimidation.

The plan said women had a key role to play in developing strategies to prevent and counter extremism in their countries.

Britain will also push for peacekeeping missions to include more women, and support efforts to end sexual abuse by peacekeepers.

There were more than 140 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN staff and peacekeepers in 2016 and 2017, affecting more than 300 people.

The plan said evidence showed missions which included women were more effective and better able to engage with local people.

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Ahmad also said championing girls’ education was crucial for transforming the lives of those caught up in conflicts and promoting global stability.

“This year (we) will focus on ensuring that girls in the poorest countries in the world receive at least 12 years of quality education because this is the single most powerful spur to development and progress,” he added.

The first action plan launched in 2014 focused on six countries: Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia and Syria.

The new roadmap, launched by the foreign, defence and international development ministries, adds Iraq, Nigeria and South Sudan.

Although Iraq’s constitution requires a quarter of lawmakers to be women, years of war and economic decline have undermined the status of women in most spheres of life, the plan said.

It also highlighted high levels of sexual violence amid South Sudan’s civil war and in northeast Nigeria, where women face increased risks due to the conflict with Boko Haram militants.

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Nations at North Korea meeting commit to considering more sanctions

Wed, 2018-01-17 03:00

VANCOUVER: A 20-nation meeting on North Korea agreed on Tuesday to consider imposing unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang that go beyond those required by UN Security Council resolutions, the United States and Canada said in a joint statement.
The meeting, to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, also agreed to support dialogue between the two Koreas “in hopes that it leads to sustained easing of tensions,” the statement added.
The United States and Canada co-hosted the day-long meeting in Vancouver to discuss ways of forcing North Korea to give up its nuclear arms.
The statement said participants “agree to consider and take steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by UN Security Council resolutions.” It gave no details.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States in spite of increasingly severe UN sanctions, raising fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula.
The Vancouver meeting also committed to ensuring that sanctions already in place were fully implemented.
Earlier on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said all countries needed to work together to improve interdiction of ships attempting to skirt the sanctions and said there must be “new consequences” for North Korea “whenever new aggression occurs.”
North and South Korea held formal talks for the first time in two years this month and Pyongyang said it would send athletes to the Olympics.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in Vancouver she hoped the dialogue would continue well beyond the Olympics, but stressed that existing sanctions must be applied more rigorously.
“These two tools — tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand, and the offer of a different, brighter future on the other — (have) worked hand in hand,” she said.

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Trump: we want immigrants ‘from everywhere’ to come to US

Tue, 2018-01-16 03:00

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants immigrants to come to the United States “from everywhere,” according to participants at a White House meeting — a remark in stark contrast with his alleged denunciation of immigration from “shithole countries” last week.
“We want them to come in from everywhere,” the president said when asked about immigration policy during an Oval Office meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
But the controversy over Trump’s reported slur on January 11 raged on in Washington, as Republicans and Democrats attempt to reach a compromise on the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
Brought to the US illegally as children and granted temporary status under former president Barack Obama, Trump ended the program for so-called “Dreamers” in September.
Since the controversy erupted, Trump has not explicitly denied referring to African countries and Haiti as “shitholes,” but has said, without offering details, that he did not use the language attributed to him.
On Twitter, Trump hit out at Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, who was present at last week’s meeting and insisted the president used the slur repeatedly.
“Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can’t get made when there is no trust!” he wrote Monday evening.
“We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now!” he added Tuesday.

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US withholds $65 mln in Palestinian aid after Trump threat

The United States on Tuesday said it would withhold about half the initial aid it planned to give a U.N. agency that serves the Palestinians, two weeks after President Donald Trump questioned the value of such funding, Reuters reports.

In announcing that it would provide $60 million to the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) while withholding a further $65 million for now, the US State Department said the aid group needed to make unspecified reforms.

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef immediately criticized the move, casting it as a deliberate US effort to deny the Palestinians their rights and linking it to Trump’s widely criticized 6 December decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was unaware of any cut in aid but he was “very concerned” about the possibility because it “is an important factor of stability.”

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said in a statement that the reduced US contribution “threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle East.”

The decision to keep back some money is likely to compound the difficulty of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to further undermine Arabs’ faith that the United States can act as an impartial arbitrator.

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The last talks collapsed in 2014, partly because of Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions and to Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state, among other factors.

“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Even if Washington provided the additional $65 million, the $125 million total would be well below the $355 million that a US official said it gave UNRWA in the 2017 fiscal year ended 30 September.

While saying the decision would sustain schools and health services, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert echoed Trump in calling on other nations to provide more money because he believes the United States pays more than its share.

The State Department wrote a letter notifying UNRWA of the decision, spokeswoman Nauert said. She said that while UNRWA reforms were a condition of releasing more money, the aid decision was “not aimed at punishing” anyone.

In a Twitter post on 2 January, Trump said that Washington gives the Palestinians “HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” Trump added that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

While US officials did not link the decision to Trump’s tweet, they made a point often advanced by him, saying the United States had been UNRWA’s single largest donor for decades.

Trump’s aides initially debated whether to cut off all UNRWA aid, an unidentified US official said, but hose opposed argued that could further destabilize the region.

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Pope meets victims of child sexual abuse in Chile, ‘cries with them’

Wed, 2018-01-17 03:56

SANTIAGO: Pope Francis publicly expressed “pain and shame” on Tuesday over the rape and molestation of children by priests in Chile and later listened, prayed and cried at a private meeting with victims.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the meeting took place in the Vatican embassy in Santiago.
“No one else was present. Only the pope and the victims,” the spokesman said. “This was so they could speak of their suffering to Pope Francis, who listened to them and prayed and cried with them.”
It was only the second time on his overseas trips that the pope has met victims of sexual abuse, although he has met some at the Vatican. The last meeting on a trip was in Philadelphia in 2015.
Burke declined to give details, but his statement came at the end of an intense day for the pope, during which he spoke of sexual abuse twice, once asking forgiveness for abuses he said had done “irreparable damage” to victims.
The Argentine pontiff made his first remarks at the presidential palace, La Moneda, an unusual choice because the pope usually talks about sexual abuse to Church leaders and not politicians.
But the scandal has gripped the nation, prompting many politicians to criticize the Church in the staunchly Catholic country, where the crisis has scarred its credibility.
“Here I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church,” he said, drawing sustained applause, including from President Michelle Bachelet and diplomats.
“I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again,” he said.
The crisis centered on the pope’s appointment in 2015 of Bishop Juan Barros to head the small diocese of Osorno in south-central Chile.
Barros, who attended a papal Mass on Tuesday, has been accused of protecting his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing teenage boys over many years. Karadima has denied the allegations, and Barros said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.
“There have been many lies told about my situation,” he told Reuters after the Mass.
It was not clear if the victims the pope met were molested by Karadima. Burke would only say that they were all victims of abuse by priests.
Along with growing secularization, the scandal has hurt the standing of a Church that defended human rights during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
A poll by Santiago-based thinktank Latinobarometro this month showed that the number of Chileans calling themselves Catholics fell to 45 percent last year, from 74 percent in 1995.
Francis returned to the theme of abuse on Tuesday evening in an address to priests and nuns in Santiago’s cathedral. He spoke of “this great and painful evil” which had led victims and their families to “see the trust they had placed in the Church’s ministers betrayed.”
But he said he also understood the pain of priests and nuns who had nothing to do with abuse and had been unfairly tainted, including being “insulted in the metro or walking on the street.”
At least eight Catholic churches were attacked in Chile in the past week.
Police in riot gear dispersed some 200 demonstrators trying to make their way to a park in Chilean capital Santiago, where the pope — the first Latin American head of the Church — said Mass for some 400,000 people.
Hours after the pope arrived in Chile on Monday, two small wooden churches were burned to the ground near Temuco, where Francis is due to visit on Wednesday.
The indigenous Mapuche in the area accuse the state and private companies of taking their ancestral lands. The Mapuche say the pope’s ceremony will be held on seized land.
A church in the capital was attacked during the night, causing minor damage. Vandals burned Chilean and Vatican flags at the site and tossed pamphlets with threats against the pope.
At one attack which involved a homemade bomb, a pamphlet was left that read: “Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe.”
Graffiti scrawled on one Santiago church read: “Burn the pope.”
About 10 blocks from Tuesday’s Mass, riot police clashed with people protesting against the sexual abuse scandal and the $17 million cost of the papal visit. “Complicit Pedophiles,” read one of the banners.
But the welcome most Chileans have given Francis has been warm, with tens of thousands lining the streets.

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