Earthquake strikes central Croatia, killing five and damaging buildings

By Antonio Bronic

SISAK, Croatia (Reuters) -An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 struck central Croatia on Tuesday, killing five people and injuring at least 20, and shook several neighboring countries, officials and residents said.

Rescuers pulled people from the rubble of collapsed buildings in the town of Petrinja and army troops were sent to the area to help.

Tremors were also felt in Croatia’s capital Zagreb and as far away as Austria’s capital Vienna. Slovenia shut its only nuclear power plant as a precaution.

It was the second quake to strike the area in two days.

The GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences said it hit at a depth of 10 km (6 miles), with the epicenter in Petrinja, 50 km south of Zagreb.

The mayor of the nearby town of Glina said four people had been killed there, Croatian state TV reported. In Petrinja, a 12-year-old child was killed, N1 news channel quoted a town official as saying.

Tomislav Fabijanic, head of emergency medical services in Sisak, said many people had been injured in Petrinja and in Sisak.

“There are fractures, there are concussions and some had to be operated on,” he said.

Prime Minister Adrej Plenkovic, who rushed to Petrinja, said: “We have information that one girl was killed.

“The army is here to help. We will have to move some people from Petrinja because it is unsafe to be here,” Plenkovic said.

The head of the hospital in Sisak said later it was treating 20 people, two with severe injuries.

N1 showed footage of rescuers in Petrinja pulling a man and a child from the debris. Both were alive.

Other footage showed a house with its roof caved in. The reporter said she did not know if anyone was inside.

N1 also said a kindergarten was destroyed in the quake but there had been no children in it. The situation was “difficult” in retirement homes in the Petrinja area, it added.

Piles of stone, bricks and tiles littered Petrinja’s streets in the aftermath of the quake, and cars parked in the road were also smashed by falling debris.

A worker who had been fixing a roof in a village outside Petrinja told N1 that the quake threw him to the ground. Nine of the 10 houses in the village were destroyed, he said.

Croatia international soccer player Dejan Lovren made his hotel in the Adriatic town of Novalja available for the 16 most affected families from Petrinja, he said on Instagram.

WRAPPED IN BLANKETS

The quake was also felt in Zagreb, where people rushed onto the streets, some of which were strewn with broken roof tiles and other debris.

Patients and medical staff were evacuated from Zagreb’s Sveti Duh Hospital, many left sitting in chairs in the street wrapped in blankets.

In Austria’s second city Graz, about 200 km (130 miles) north of Petrinja, tall buildings wobbled for about two minutes, according to broadcaster ORF. In Carinthia province, about 300 km to the northwest of Petriinja, the earth trembled for several minutes and people described how their furniture, Christmas trees and lamps wobbled.

In Slovenia, the STA news agency said the country’s sole nuclear power plant, which is 100 km (60 miles) from the epicenter, was shut down as a precaution.

Croatia’s state news agency Hina said in total the quake was felt in 12 countries.

Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said Croatia was expecting help from the European Union as it had activated its emergency situation mechanism.

On Monday a magnitude 5.2 earthquake hit central Croatia, also near Petrinja. In March, an earthquake of magnitude 5.3 hit Zagreb causing one death and injuring 27 people.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru, Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade, Writing by Angus MacSwanEditing)

U.N. tallies more than 8,000 Afghan civilian casualties so far this year

FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan September 9, 2018.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) – At least 8,050 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of 2018, almost half of them targeted by suicide bomb attacks and other improvised devices that may amount to war crimes, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

The number of casualties was roughly in line with the same period a year earlier, when there were 8,084 casualties, with deaths this year rising five percent to 2,798 and injuries falling three percent to 5,252, the report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.

“As there can be no military solution to the fighting in Afghanistan, the United Nations renews its call for an immediate and peaceful settlement to the conflict,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the top UN official in Afghanistan.

Seventeen years after U.S. forces led a campaign to overthrow the Taliban following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the figures underline how dire the security situation remains.

While the figures show little change in the overall trend of violence, the UN highlighted the indiscriminate use of suicide and IED attacks, which killed 1,065 civilians and wounded 2,569 in the first nine months, a total of 3,634 casualties, compared with 3,007 casualties in the same period of 2017.

“UNAMA recalls that attacks deliberately targeting civilians and the murder of civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law that amount to war crimes,” it said in the report.

With parliamentary elections due on Oct. 20, security officials warn that attacks are likely to pick up on polling stations and other election sites, many of which are located in schools, mosques or health clinics.

A wave of suicide attacks in the eastern province of Nangarhar and in the capital Kabul this year has hit students preparing for exams, spectators at sporting events, people waiting to register for elections as well as Shi’ite mosques.

The mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority has been especially heavily targeted by attacks claimed by the local affiliate of Islamic State.

The report attributed 65 percent of casualties to the Taliban, Islamic State and other anti-government forces.

As casualties from suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices rose, casualties from ground fighting fell by 18 percent to 2,311 (605 deaths and 1,706 injured). At the same time, there was a 39 percent rise in the number of casualties from air strikes, which have risen as air operations have been ramped up, to 649 (313 deaths and 336 injured).

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Rescue teams searching rubble after flyover collapses in Kolkata

Firefighters and rescue workers search for victims at the site of a bridge that collapsed in Kolkata, India September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

By Subrata Nagchoudhury

KOLKATA (Reuters) – Rescue workers were working to see if anyone was trapped in the debris after a bridge collapsed on Tuesday in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, government officials said.

Cars were seen among the rubble and a large portion of the bridge was destroyed, but as yet it was not known if there were casualties.

“We are trying to assess if there are people trapped beneath the debris,” Sovan Chatterjee, the mayor of Kolkata, who visited the accident site, told Reuters.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, said in a televised address: “We are still assessing the gravity of the situation and we cannot talk about the deaths right now.”

All India Trinamool Congress, the West Bengal state’s ruling party, said on Twitter the bridge was 40 years old.

There were no more immediate details of the cause of the collapse.

In March 2016, another bridge collapsed in the city, killing more than two dozen people.

(Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Alison Williams)

Kiev and Kremlin trade blame over surge in east Ukraine fighting

Russian/Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov gives news briefing on Ukraine situation

KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukraine and Russia blamed each other on Tuesday for a surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine over recent days that has led to the highest casualty toll in weeks and cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on the front line.

The Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists accuse each other of launching offensives in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka and firing heavy artillery in defiance of the two-year-old Minsk ceasefire deal.

Eight Ukrainian troops have been killed and 26 wounded since fighting intensified on Sunday – the heaviest losses for the military since mid-December, according to government figures.

“The current escalation in Donbass is a clear indication of Russia’s continued blatant disregard of its commitments under the Minsk agreements with a view of preventing the stabilization of the situation and achieving any progress in the security and humanitarian spheres,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The peace deal was agreed in February 2015, but international security monitors report ceasefire violations on a daily basis, including regular gun and mortar fire.

The latest clashes mark the first significant escalation in Ukraine since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose call for better relations with Moscow has alarmed Kiev while the conflict remains unresolved.

Ukrainian authorities said they were prepared for a possible evacuation of Avdiyivka’s 16,000 residents, many of whom have little or no access to electricity or water after shelling from the separatist side hit supply infrastructure.

Meanwhile Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian government troops had launched a deadly attack on pro-Russian rebels across the Avdiyivka front line on Monday.

“Such aggressive actions, supported by the armed forces of Ukraine, undermine the aims and the task of realizing the Minsk accords,” he said, accusing the Ukrainian authorities of organizing the offensive as a ruse to try to distract attention from domestic and other problems.

Close to 10,000 people have been killed since fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels seeking independence from Kiev erupted in April 2014.

Ukraine and NATO accuse the Kremlin of supporting the rebels with troops and weapons. The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over the conflict, as well as for its annexation of Crimea.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice in Kiev and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Christian Lowe and Mark Trevelyan)

Thousands more Iraqis flee Mosul as military advances

A member of Iraqi security forces inspects a house in the Intisar district of eastern Mosul, Iraq,

By Stephen Kalin and Isabel Coles

NEAR MOSUL/ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

After quick initial advances, the operation stalled for several weeks but last Thursday Iraqi forces renewed their push from Mosul’s east towards the Tigris River on three fronts.

Elite interior ministry troops were clearing the Mithaq district on Wednesday, after entering it on Tuesday when counterterrorism forces also retook an industrial zone.

Federal police advanced in the Wahda district, the military said on Wednesday, in the 12th week of Iraq’s largest military campaign since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

As they advanced, many more civilian casualties were also being recorded, the U.N. said.

Vastly outnumbered, the militants have embedded themselves among residents and are using the city terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors, and making tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.

“We were very afraid,” one Mithaq resident said.

“A Daesh (Islamic State) anti-aircraft weapon was positioned close to our house and was opening fire on helicopters. We could see a small number of Daesh fighters in the street carrying light and medium weapons. They were hit by planes.”

Security forces have retaken about a quarter of Mosul since October but, against expectations and despite severe shortages of food and water, most residents have stayed put until now.

Displaced Iraqi people, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, stand in line as they leave Khazer camp to go home, Iraq

Displaced Iraqi people, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, stand in line as they leave Khazer camp to go home, Iraq January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily

More than 125,000 people have been displaced out of a population of roughly 1.5 million, but the numbers have increased by nearly 50 percent to 2,300 daily from 1,600 over the last few days, the U.N. refugee agency said.

The humanitarian situation was “dire”, with food stockpiles dwindling and the price of staples spiralling, boreholes drying up or turning brackish from over-use and camps and emergency sites to the south and east reaching maximum capacity, it said.

Most of the fleeing civilians are from the eastern districts but people from the besieged west, still under the militants’ control, are increasingly attempting to escape, scaling bridges bombed by the coalition and crossing the Tigris by boat.

An Iraqi victory in Mosul would probably spell the end for Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate but in recent days the militants have displayed the tactics to which they are likely to resort if they lose the city, killing dozens with bombs in Baghdad and attacking security forces elsewhere.

Double click on http://tmsnrt.rs/2fd0nGE for map on Battle for Mosul

(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Louise Ireland)

U.S. to halt some arms sales to Saudi, citing civilian deaths in Yemen campaign

A Saudi soldier fires a mortar towards Houthi movement position, at the Saudi border with Yemen

By Phil Stewart and Warren Strobel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has decided to limit military support to Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen because of concerns over widespread civilian casualties and will halt a planned arms sale to the kingdom, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The United States will also revamp future training of the kingdom’s air force to focus on improving Saudi targeting practices, a persistent source of concern for Washington.

The decision reflects deep frustration within President Barack Obama’s government over Saudi Arabia’s practices in Yemen’s 20-month-old war, which has killed more than 10,000 people and sparked humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Middle East.

It could also further strain ties between Washington and Riyadh in the remaining days of Obama’s administration and put the question of Saudi-U.S. relations squarely before the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015 and has launched thousands of air strikes against the Iran-allied Houthi movement.

Rights groups say attacks on clinics, schools, markets and factories may amount to war crimes. Saudi Arabia has either denied the attacks or cited the presence of fighters in the targeted areas and has said it has tried to reduce civilian casualties.

An Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “systemic, endemic” problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting drove the U.S. decision to halt a future weapons sale involving precision-guided munitions.

“We’ve decided not to move forward with some foreign military sales cases for air-dropped munitions, PGMs (precision-guided munitions),” the official said.

“That’s obviously a direct reflection of the concerns that we have about Saudi strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties,” the official said. A second official confirmed the decision to suspend the sale of certain weaponry.

The officials declined to offer details. But a specific case put on hold appeared to involve the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of guidance systems manufactured by Raytheon Co that convert dumb bombs into precision-guided munitions that can more accurately hit their targets.

At the same time, the United States has decided to increase efforts to address long-standing Saudi concerns by focusing more on border security, the official said. The kingdom has been subject to cross-border attacks by the Iran-allied Houthis.

“They’ve made a very strong request for greater intelligence sharing and more support for their border,” the official said.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi embassy officials.

The White House launched a review of U.S. assistance for the Saudi-led coalition after planes struck mourners at a funeral in the capital, Sanaa, in October, killing 140 people, according to one U.N. estimate.

The United Nations human rights office said in August that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for roughly 60 percent of the 3,800 civilians killed since March 2015.

Human rights groups have criticized the United States for supporting the Saudi war effort by selling the kingdom arms and refueling coalition jets. The United States says it has not vetted or selected Saudi targets in Yemen.

The Obama administration official said the United States would not halt refueling of the Saudi-led coalition planes.

“For now that’s not going to be touched. Again, the review could continue and people could make a different decision in the coming weeks,” the official said.

SMART VERSUS DUMB BOMBS

The decision to suspend the arms sale to the Saudis marks a reversal for the administration. Officials have long argued that supplying so-called “smart weapons” helped in reducing civilian casualties.

Last year, the Obama administration even had the U.S. military send precision-guided munitions from its own stocks to replenish dwindling Saudi-led coalition supplies, a source close to the Saudi government has said.

But that argument ultimately failed to convince the Obama administration during its review, which the first official said was still ongoing.

“It’s not a matter of how smart or dumb the bombs are, it’s that they’re not picking the right targets. The case in point … is the one on the funeral,” the official said.

The airstrikes on the funeral took place after the Saudi-led coalition received incorrect information from Yemeni military figures that armed Houthi leaders were in the area, an investigative body set up by the coalition said in October.

In an effort to reduce civilian casualties, the United States gave the Saudis detailed lists of sites to avoid bombing, Reuters has previously reported. But jets in the Saudi-led coalition have hit at least one target on that list.

US STILL SELLING HELICOPTERS

Earlier this year, the U.S. military reduced the number of U.S. military personnel coordinating with the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign, slashing it to six people from a peak of 45 personnel.

“Their responsibilities are being adjusted and limited so that they are less enmeshed in some of the offensive operations in Yemen,” the official said.

Reuters reported earlier this year on concerns by some U.S. officials that the United States could be implicated in possible Saudi violations of the laws of war.

In the view of some officials, U.S. refueling and logistical support of Riyadh’s air force – even more than the arms sales – risked making the United States a party to the Yemen conflict under international law.

In May, Washington suspended sales to Riyadh of cluster munitions, which release dozens of bomblets and are considered particularly dangerous to civilians.

Last week, the State Department announced plans to sell Saudi Arabia CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters and related equipment, training and support worth $3.51 billion. U.S. officials said the weaponry would help Saudi defend its border, not conduct offensive operations in Yemen.

(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Ross Colvin)

Islamic State said to lose ground as coalition closes on Mosul

Peshmerga forces after attacking Islamic State

* Iraqi and Kurdish forces say took villages near Mosul

* Consolidating territory, still some way from city

* Civilians at risk, aid groups say, gas attack possible

* IS leader and explosive expert in Mosul-Kurdish official

By Maher Chmaytelli and Michael Georgy

BAGHDAD/ERBIL, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Iraqi and Kurdish forces closing in on Mosul said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first day of an operation to retake what is Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

With around 1.5 million people still living in Mosul, the International Organisation for Migration said it was preparing gas masks in case of chemical attack by the jihadists, who had used such weapons previously against Iraqi Kurdish forces.

Tens of thousands of civilians could be forcibly expelled, trapped between fighting lines or used as human shields, said the IOM, one of many aid organizations to sound the alarm.

The fall of Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting between groups which fought one another after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

For U.S. President Barack Obama, the campaign is a calculated risk, with U.S. officials acknowledging that there isno clear plan for how the region around Mosul will be governed once Islamic State is expelled.

The Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces from autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan began moving towards the city at dawn on Monday under air cover from a U.S.-led coalition set up after Islamic State swept into Iraq from Syria in 2014.

Hoshiyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish official, said initial operations succeeded due to close cooperation between the Iraqi government and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, allowing them to clear Islamic State from 9 or 10 villages east of Mosul.

“Daesh is disoriented they don’t know whether to expect attacks from the east or west or north,” he told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for the hardline Sunni group.

On Tuesday the attacking forces entered another phase, he said. “It won’t be a spectacular attack on Mosul itself. It will be very cautious. It is a high risk operation for everybody.”

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and explosives expert Fawzi Ali Nouimeh were both in the city, according to what he described as “solid” intelligence reports, indicating the group would put up significant resistance.

A total of 20 villages were taken from the militants east, south and southeast of Mosul by early Tuesday, according to statements from the two forces, fighting alongside one another for the first time.

Islamic State said on Monday its fighters had targeted the attacking forces with 10 suicide bombs and that their foes had surrounded five villages but not taken them. None of the reports could be independently verified.

The advancing forces were still between 20 and 50 km (12-30 miles) from Mosul and officials described it as a “shaping operation” designed to enhance positions ahead of a major
offensive by taking hilltops, crossings and important crossroads.

EXODUS FEARED

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the offensive on Monday around two years after Iraq’s second-largest city fell to the militants, who exploited the civil war that broke out in Syria in 2011 to seize territory there.

The operation had been planned since July with U.S. and other coalition forces and Western and Iraqi officials, mindful of the civil war that followed Saddam’s fall, say plans for
administering the mainly Sunni city and accommodating those who flee the fighting are in place.

The United Nations has said up to a million people could flee the city and that it expected the first wave in five or six days.

Fighting is expected to take weeks, if not months, as some 30,000 government forces, Sunni tribal fighters and Kurdish
Peshmerga first encircle the city then attempt to oust between 4,000 and 8,000 Islamic State militants.

More than 5,000 U.S. soldiers are also deployed in support missions, as are troops from France, Britain, Canada and other Western nations.

The Iraqi army is attacking Mosul on the southern and southeastern fronts, while the Peshmerga carried out their operation to the east.

The Peshmerga, who are also deployed north and northwest of the city, said they secured “a significant stretch” of the 80 km (50 mile) road between Erbil, their capital, and Mosul, about an hour’s drive to the west.

Obama is seeking to put an end to the “caliphate” – a launch pad for attacks on civilians in the West – before he leaves office in January and the Mosul campaign comes three weeks before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8.

Coalition warplanes attacked 17 Islamic State positions in support of the Peshmerga operation in the heavily mined area, the Kurdish statement said, adding that at least four car bombs were destroyed.

There was no indication about the number of military or civilian casualties in the Iraqi or Kurdish statements.

POST-WAR PLAN

The Mosul plan calls for the governor of the city’s Nineveh province, Nawfal al-Agoub, to be restored and the city divided into sub-districts with local mayors for each. Agoub will govern along with a senior representative from Baghdad and from Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

Screening procedures for civilians fleeing Mosul have been enhanced, in an effort to learn from the battle for Fallujah, in Anbar province. There, Sunni men and boys were held, tortured and in some cases killed by Shi’ite militia members, who had erected makeshift checkpoints.

The U.N. refugee agency said it had built five camps to house 45,000 people and plans to have an additional six in the coming weeks with a capacity for 120,000, that would still not be enough to cope if the exodus is as big as feared.

Amnesty International urged Iraqi authorities to keep Shi’ite paramilitary groups away from Mosul whose population is largely Sunni.

The rights group said the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad would bear responsibility for the actions of the militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are officially considered to be part of the country’s armed forces.

U.S. and Iraqi officials are working to ensure displaced civilians take safe routes out of the city, and that checkpoints are overseen by provincial authorities and monitored by international non-government groups.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in ERBIL, Ahmed Rasheed and Stephen Kalin in BAGHDAD, Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA, Warren Strobel, Yara Bayoumy and Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Giles Elgood)

In escalation, India says launches strikes on militants in Pakistan

An Indian soldier on patrol

By Sanjeev Miglani and Asad Hashim

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – India said on Thursday it had conducted “surgical strikes” on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, making its first direct military response to an attack on an army base it blames on Pakistan.

Pakistan said two of its soldiers had been killed in exchanges of fire and in repulsing an Indian “raid”, but denied India had made any targeted strikes across the de facto frontier that runs through the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

The cross-border action inflicted significant casualties, the Indian army’s head of operations told reporters in New Delhi, while a senior government official said Indian soldiers had crossed the border to target militant camps.

The announcement followed through on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning that those India held responsible “would not go unpunished” for a Sept. 18 attack on an Indian army base at Uri, near the Line of Control, that killed 18 soldiers.

The strikes also raised the possibility of a military escalation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan that would wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire.

Lt General Ranbir Singh, the Indian army’s director general of military operations (DGMO), said the strikes were launched on Wednesday based on “very specific and credible information that some terrorist units had positioned themselves … with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes”.

Singh said he had called his Pakistani counterpart to inform him of the operation, which had ended. India later briefed opposition parties and foreign ambassadors in New Delhi but stopped short of disclosing operational details.

“It would indicate that this was all pretty well organized,” said one diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because the briefing by Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was confidential.

Pakistan’s military spokesman slammed the Indian account as “totally baseless and completely a lie”, saying the contact between DGMOs only included communication regarding cross-border firing, which was within existing rules of engagement.

“We deny it. There is no such thing on the ground. There is just the incident of the firing last night, which we responded to,” Lt General Asim Bajwa told news channel Geo TV.

“We have fired in accordance with the rules of engagement[…] We are acting in a responsible way.”

Pakistan said nine of its soldiers had also been wounded. Neither side’s account could be independently verified.

India’s disclosure of such strikes was unprecedented, said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, and sent a message not only to his own people but to the international community.

“India expects global support to launch more focused action against Pakistan,” Sahni told Reuters. “There was tremendous pressure on the Indian prime minister to prove that he is ready to take serious action.”

NO MORE STRATEGIC RESTRAINT

The border clash also comes at a delicate time for Pakistan, with powerful Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif due to retire shortly and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still to decide on a successor.

The Pakistani premier condemned what he called India’s “unprovoked and naked aggression” and called a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss further steps.

Share markets in India and Pakistan fell on India’s announcement. India’s NSE index closed down 1.6 percent after falling as much 2.1 percent to its lowest since Aug. 29, while Pakistan’s benchmark 100-share index was down 0.15 percent.

India announced its retaliation at a news conference in New Delhi that was hurriedly called, only to be delayed, as Modi chaired a meeting of his cabinet committee on security to be briefed on the operation.

“The prime minister is clear that this is exactly what we should have done,” a senior government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “Informing the world about the surgical strike was important today.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice spoke with her Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, before news of the Indian cross-border operation broke, the White House said.

Rice discussed deepening collaboration between the United States and India on counter-terrorism and urged Pakistan to combat and delegitimize individuals and entities designated by the United Nations as terrorists.

SIX-HOUR EXCHANGE

Exchanges of fire took place in the Bhimber, Hot Spring, Kel and Lipa sectors in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and lasted about six hours, the Pakistani military said earlier.

An Indian army officer in Kashmir said there had been shelling from the Pakistani side of the border into the Nowgam district, near the Line of Control, and the exchange of fire continued during the day.

There were no casualties or damage reported on the Indian side of the frontier. An Indian military source told Reuters that the operation was carried out on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control where there were between five and seven infiltration “launchpads”.

“It was a shallow strike. The operation began at around midnight and it was over before sunrise,” this source, who had been briefed by his superiors on the operation, said. “All our men our back. Significant casualties inflicted. Damage assessment still going on.”

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts, and have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Tension between the South Asian rivals has been high since an Indian crackdown on dissent in Kashmir following the killing by security forces of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July.

They rose further when New Delhi blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack, which inflicted the heaviest toll on the Indian army of any single incident in 14 years.

India has been ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan, seeking to isolate it at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and winning expressions of condemnation from the United States, Britain and France over the attack.

China, another of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a traditional ally of Pakistan, has urged dialogue between the two antagonists.

On Wednesday, officials from several countries said a November summit of a the South Asian regional group due to be held in Islamabad may be called off after India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan said they would not attend.

(Writing by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR, Rupam Jain in NEW DELHI, Drazen Jorgic and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in ISLAMABAD.; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Taiwans’ third typhoon of the month kills at least four, hundreds injuried

A damaged tent is see as Typhoon Megi hits Hualien, eastern Taiwan,

TAIPEI, Sept 27 (Reuters) – The third typhoon to hit Taiwan this month killed at least four people and injured hundreds on Tuesday, knocking down trees and cutting power to millions.

Most schools and offices were shut and the north-south bullet train suspended services as Typhoon Megi, packing winds of well over 160 kph (100 mph), roared in from the Pacific.

At least 167 people were injured and more than 11,500 evacuated, the government’s Central Emergency Operation Centre said. Authorities also estimated more than two million households had lost power, while over 45,000 were without water.

Taiwan’s financial markets were closed because of the storm.

Television footage showed people scurrying along city streets clutching umbrellas to try to fend off the rain.

Bus and subway services were mostly suspended in the capital, Taipei, while hundreds of international flights were canceled.

The typhoon was moving across Taiwan and expected to head into the Taiwan Strait and on towards China on Wednesday where it will make landfall in the southeastern province of Fujian.

China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said it had ordered authorities across a large swathe of southern and eastern China to step up disaster prevention preparations.

This month, super Typhoon Meranti killed at least 28 people in China and Taiwan and cut power to more than a million homes.

Typhoons are common in the region at this time of year, picking up strength as they cross warm Pacific waters and bringing fierce wind and rain when they reach land.

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in
Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Magnitude 7.4 earthquake strikes Southern Japan

A woman reacts at a health and welfare center acting as an evacuation center after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan

(Reuters) – A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck southern Japan early on Saturday, just over 24 hours after a quake killed nine people and injured at least 1,000 in the same area.

The Saturday quake triggered a tsunami advisory, though it was later lifted and no irregularities were reported at three nuclear power plants in the area, Japanese media reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the Saturday quake though there were several reports of damage, including some collapsed buildings and cracked roads.

The epicenter of the quake was near the city of Kumamoto and measured at a shallow depth of 10 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake on Thursday evening in the same region was of 6.4 magnitude.

“Thursday’s quake might have been a foreshock of this one,” Shinji Toda, a professor at Tohoku University, told national broadcaster NHK.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the Saturday quake was 7.1 magnitude and it initially issued a tsunami advisory, which identifies the presence of a marine threat and asks people to leave coastal regions, for the Ariake and Yatsushiro seas.

NHK said the advisory suggested a possible wave of one meter in height. The advisory was later lifted.

Several aftershocks rattled the region later on Saturday, including one of 5.8 magnitude.

NHK quoted an official at a hospital near the epicenter as saying it had lost power after the Saturday quake and had to use its generators.

Most of the casualties in the Thursday quake came in the town of Mashiki, near the epicenter, where several houses collapsed.

A magnitude 9 quake in March 2011, to the north of Tokyo, touched off a massive tsunami and nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the tsunami.

(Reporting by Tokyo bureau; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Robert Birsel and Martin Howell)