Ethiopian families fleeing fighting describe hunger, rape in Amhara

By Giulia Paravicini, Dawit Endeshaw and Maggie Fick

DESSIE, Ethiopia (Reuters) – The pictures on her phone are all that Ethiopian mother Habtam Akele has left of her three-year-old daughter Saba. The girl died of malnutrition last month before the family was able to flee south, deeper into Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

“They (doctors) told me she has been severely affected by malnutrition and they cannot help. Then they gave me some syrup and tablets. She passed away exactly a week later,” Habtam told Reuters earlier this month, clutching her surviving nine-month-old baby.

Habtam is among an influx of thousands of Amhara families fleeing to the town of Dessie from fighting further north. Officials warn the already overcrowded makeshift camps, where displaced people sleep in rows in school classrooms, will fill further after renewed clashes.

Conflict erupted between the ruling party of the rebellious northern region of Tigray – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – and the Ethiopian central government last November.

In July, the TPLF pushed into the neighboring region of Amhara, whose forces had fought alongside the military against the Tigrayans, as well as into the region of Afar.

The Tigrayan advance forced around 250,000 people to flee their homes in Amhara, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in September.

On Monday, the TPLF said the Ethiopian military had launched an offensive to try to dislodge the Tigrayan fighters from Amhara, following a barrage of air strikes reported last week.

The military and government have not answered calls seeking information on the offensive, but a post on the military’s official Facebook page said “they (the TPLF) have opened war on all fronts” and said the military was inflicting heavy casualties.

Diplomats are worried that renewed fighting will further destabilize Ethiopia, a nation of 109 million people, and deepen hunger in Tigray and the surrounding regions.

Habtam said there was little food in the areas under Tigrayan control and that Tigrayan forces took scarce medicines from local pharmacies.

Getachew Reda, the spokesman for the TPLF, told Reuters that Tigrayan forces had not looted pharmacies that supplied local populations and had set up a generator to alleviate water shortages in Habtam’s area.

Reuters had no way of independently verifying Habtam’s account since her home, to the north in Kobo, is off-limits to journalists due to fighting and phone connections to the area are down.

ARMED MAN

The United Nations has said that the Ethiopian government is only letting a trickle of food trucks and no medicines or fuel into Tigray despite estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are in famine conditions there – a charge the government denies. Hospitals there have run out of crucial medicines.

Both sides accuse each other of committing atrocities. Reuters has previously documented gang-rapes and mass killings of civilians in Tigray, and some Amhara residents told Reuters that Tigrayans were also committing abuses in territory they control. Both sides have denied the allegations.

Another woman at the camps told Reuters that she had been raped by an armed man speaking Tigrinya, the language of Tigray, in an area of Amhara under Tigrayan control. Saada, 28, told Reuters she had been attacked in her house in Mersa, 80 km north of Dessie, by the armed man in plain clothes. She did not recall the exact date but said it was around the end of August.

“He said to me ‘We left our houses both to kill and to die. I am from the jungle so, I have all the right to do whatever I want. I can even kill you’ and he raised his gun to me and threatened to kill me,” she said. “Then he raped me.”

She provided a card showing she had visited Dessie Comprehensive Specialized Hospital for treatment. She asked Reuters not to use her full name to protect her from reprisals.

Leul Mesfin, the medical director of Dessie hospital declined to answer questions about civilian injuries or rapes, or individual cases, because he said he did not trust foreign journalists.

When asked about the rape, Getachew of the TPLF said any reported incident would be investigated and that the actions of one man should not implicate Tigrayan forces in general.

“I can’t vouch for each and every off-breed idiot who masquerades as a fighter,” he said. “There are millions of (men with) guns there.”

(Maggie Fick reported from Nairobi; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alison Williams)

Syrian army and pro-Iranian militias attack rebel enclave in southern city

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian army units aided by pro-Iranian militias have staged a major assault on an opposition enclave in the southern border city of Deraa in a bid to retake the last opposition stronghold in southern Syria, residents, army and opposition sources said.

Troops amassed around the sprawling government-held city sought to advance into the area known as Deraa al Balaad, which has particular significance in the Syrian conflict as it was center of the first peaceful protests against Assad family rule in 2011 which were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

Opposition fighters said they had repulsed the attack from the western side of the enclave, which has been under a two-month siege during which the army has prevented food, medical and fuel supplies coming in but opened a corridor for civilians to leave, residents and local figures said.

Pro-Iranian army units led by the elite Fourth Division who have also encircled the enclave poured in new fighters and set up new checkpoints on the main Damascus highway leading to the Jordanian border crossing, a senior army source said.

Another army source said fighting was continuing, but did not elaborate. State media have in recent days said the army was preparing to end a “state of lawlessness and chaos” and reimpose army control.

There was no indication of casualties in the latest incident.

The Syrian army, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, in 2018 retook control of the province of which Deraa is the capital and which borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights.

ROAD MAP

Local negotiators from both sides say Moscow, which plays a leading role in maintaining security in the region, had so far held back the army from a military offensive, which they say Iranian-backed army units who have a major presence in Deraa have been pushing for.

Russian generals who on Aug. 14 presented local leaders and the army with a road map that averts a military showdown are trying to win over the opposition, some of whom fear the plan reneges on a deal brokered by Russia three years ago.

The deal at the time forced thousands of mainstream Western- backed rebels to hand over heavy weapons in 2018 but kept the army from entering Deraa al Balaad.

Moscow’s plan seen by Reuters offers ex-rebels a pardon but allows the army to gradually take over the enclave, while offering safe passage to former rebels who oppose the deal to leave for opposition areas in northwest Syria.

Residents say Russian military police have stepped up their presence in the city and its outskirts, where they often act as mediators between locals in disputes with the army and security forces.

The enclave until recently had a population of some 50,000 but most had fled in the last two weeks, so the area has become a virtual ghost town with several thousand rebels dug in.

The enclave and other towns in southern Syria have, since the state regained control of the province, held sporadic protests against President Bashar al Assad’s authoritarian rule that are rare in areas under state control.

“They want to stamp out the remaining voice of the revolution in southern Syria,” said Abu Jehad al Hourani, a local civilian leader in the enclave.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by David Holmes)

Over 71% of Lebanon’s population risks losing access to safe water – UNICEF

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United Nations warned on Friday that more than four million people in Lebanon, including one million refugees risked losing access to safe water as shortages of funding, fuel and supplies affect water pumping.

“UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks,” a statement by the U.N. body said.

Lebanon is battling an economic meltdown that has propelled more than half of its population into poverty and seen its currency lose over 90% of its value in less than two years.

The financial crisis has translated into severe shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicine as dollars run dry.

UNICEF said that should the public water supply system collapse, water costs could jump by 200% a month as water would be secured from private water suppliers.

The U.N. agency said it needed $40 million a year to secure the minimum levels of fuel, chlorine, spare parts and maintenance required to keep critical systems operational.

“Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function,” UNICEF Representative in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo, was quoted as saying in the statement.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan; editing by Grant McCool)

Brawls in shops as Lebanon’s financial meltdown hits supply of food

By Maha El Dahan and Ellen Francis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The collapse of Lebanon’s currency has forced many grocery shops to temporarily shut within the last 24 hours, raising fears that a country reliant on imports could soon face shortages of food.

Food shops around the country were locking their doors, halting online deliveries or restricting customers’ orders. Others stayed open, but could not say for how long.

“There’s a big possibility we will close if it stays like this. I don’t know where will we get supplies, and no one is helping us,” said Beirut grocer Mohieldin Fayed, who has kept his shop open.

The pound tumbled to 15,000 to the dollar on Tuesday, losing a third of its value in the last two weeks. It has now sunk by 90% since late 2019.

“If this persists, things will start to disappear, traders will prioritize what to get,” said Hani Bohsali, head of the foodstuffs importers syndicate. “We’ll have to buy less, in variety and quantity, because we can’t find the money.”

He estimated the country has roughly two months of supplies, while it was getting more and more difficult for importers to obtain the dollars they need to keep buying.

The economy’s collapse has pushed much of the population into poverty and poses the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Social media users have been sharing videos of supermarket brawls, such as a fight between a man and a woman trying to buy powdered milk. Prices of many consumer goods such as diapers or cereals have nearly tripled during the crisis.

Nabil Fahed, head of the syndicate of supermarket owners, said some of the shops that had shut on Tuesday reopened on Wednesday after replenishing stocks. But he said permanent closures would happen if no exchange stability was reached.

“What we’re afraid of is that these eventually turn from temporary closures … that it becomes final because it is a dire situation, their capital is being eroded and they don’t have money to pay for goods.”

The vice president of Lebanon’s bakeries’ syndicate said bakeries were supplying the country with bread for now, but could not do so indefinitely without a solution. Lebanon imports almost all of its wheat.

“If we continue at this pace, in the end we will reach a forced closure until the exchange rate stabilizes,” Ali Ibrahim, who tried to resign from his position two weeks ago because of the dire situation, said in a statement.

LOOMING SUBSIDY REMOVAL

Many shops in Lebanon were already shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, and streets have also been closed by roadblocks during anti-government demonstrations. But until this week, groceries had mostly stayed open. Many have been offering deliveries online.

On Tuesday, a number of online grocery shops disappeared from apps. Others refused to accept orders.

Lebanon’s central bank has drawn on already critical foreign reserves to subsidize three key commodities – wheat, fuel and medicine – and a basket of other basic goods, as dollars inflows dried up. It has provided hard currency to importers at the old peg of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

But the state, fast running out of cash, has signaled multiple times that the subsidies would soon be lifted, although it has yet to give a timeline or announce a plan.

Supermarket syndicate head Fahed said the central bank was often slow to release dollars to food importers, causing shortages which in turn provoke consumers to hoard goods. In one example, he said a supermarket had sold a typical month’s stock of 5,000 gallons of subsidized cooking oil in only five hours.

The looming removal of subsidies has triggered fears of shortages, said Nasser Saidi, an economist and former cabinet minister.

“As soon as you announce that subsidies might be lifted or reduced…automatically consumers hoard goods,” he said.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Ellen Francis, Imad Creidi and Alaa Kanaan; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Peter Graff)

U.S. states declare emergencies to help farmers hit by propane shortage

(Reuters) – At least eight U.S. Midwest states declared emergencies in recent weeks over regional shortages of propane needed by grain farmers to dry their crops amid a late harvest and wet weather.

Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin eased restrictions on the transport of propane to help alleviate the local shortages. There is no nationwide shortage and residential propane prices recently were about 22% below that of a year ago.

Spring flooding in U.S. Midwest farming states led to late harvests that have triggered a surge in demand for the fuel used to reduce moisture in corn crops to ready for sale or to safely store the grain.

“The late harvest and high demand for petroleum products throughout the Midwest have resulted in low supplies of propane as well as difficulty transporting,” according to a notice on Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ website.

The state’s declaration relaxes size and weight limits on vehicle transport. An earlier proclamation eased operating-hour rules on propane carriers. The latest rule, like most of the other states’ orders, is effective for a month.

Propane carriers faced four- to six-hour waits last week at the Conway, Kansas, propane terminal that is the nation’s second-largest, and drivers were facing restrictions due to the wait, one official said.

“There is plenty of propane on hand in the country,” said Greg Noll, executive vice president of Propane Marketers Association of Kansas. “We just need to get it from the points that have it on hand to the points where it is needed.”

Texas, which is home to the nation’s largest storage in Mont Belvieu, reported no emergency or shortage.

Consumers have not faced shortages because most homeowners would have had their tanks filled by now, said Noll.

Residential propane prices at the start of the U.S. heating season were under $2 a gallon, or about 22% lower than at the start of winter last year, according to government data issued on Monday.

Propane and propylene stocks were 97.6 million barrels the week ended Nov. 8, up nearly 14 million barrels from a year-ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last week. It said average wholesale propane prices in the Midwest were 78 cents a gallon excluding taxes, flat from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru, Gary McWilliams in Houston; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight

Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight
By Nichola Groom

PIXLEY, Calif. (Reuters) – Joey Airoso has always been proud of his cows, whose milk goes into the butter sold by national dairy company Land O’Lakes. Now he has something new to brag about: the vast amounts of gas produced by his 2,900-head herd is powering truck fleets, homes and factories across the state of California.

“It’s pretty incredible if you think about it,” Airoso said during a recent tour of his 1,500-acre farm, as a stream of watered-down manure flowed from cow sheds into a nearby pit. There the slurry releases methane that is captured and eventually piped into fueling stations and buildings.

Airoso is tapping into a growing market among U.S. utilities for so-called renewable natural gas, or biomethane, that is being driven by the fight against climate change.

For farmers, it is a way to get ahead of a wave of greenhouse gas regulation and make a bit of cash at the same time. And for utilities that buy or transport the gas, it is a way to respond to the increasing demands of customers and lawmakers to cut their reliance on fossil fuels.

“It is not something very many people are aware of yet, but it makes sense once it’s explained,” said Emily O’Connell, director of energy markets policy at the American Gas Association, the trade group for gas utilities.

Renewable natural gas can come from manure, landfills or wastewater and is interchangeable with gas drilled out of the ground. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring significant volumes of methane that would have been produced anyway never reach the atmosphere. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it escapes into the air unburned.

Nationwide, more than a dozen utilities have started developing renewable natural gas production through partnerships with farmers, wastewater treatment plants and landfill operators, while nine have proposed price premiums for customers who choose it as a fuel, according to the American Gas Association industry group. Renewable natural gas is currently between four and seven times more expensive to produce than fossil gas, a gap that its proponents hope will narrow as the fuel becomes more widely used.

BUSES, STOVES

California’s SoCalGas, the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, is one of the industry’s top proponents of the alternative fuel. It has committed to making renewable natural gas 20 percent of its supply by 2030, said Sharon Tomkins, vice president of strategy and engagement.

She said California has enough biomethane potential “to make a significant dent in reducing the overall emissions from both the agricultural sector as well as reducing the carbon intensity of our gas stream.”

Across the country, Vermont Gas hopes to one day supply only renewable natural gas, leveraging the state’s preponderance of dairy farms. The utility’s renewable natural gas supply currently stands at less than 1 percent of overall volumes, according to spokeswoman Beth Parent. But the company is helping large energy buyers in the state, like cleaning products maker Seventh Generation, Middlebury College and Vermont Coffee Company transition to using biomethane.

CenterPoint Energy, Southwest Gas, DTE Energy and NW Natural are among the other gas utilities seeking to integrate more renewable natural gas into their systems. Last year Dominion Energy partnered with meat producer Smithfield Foods on a $250 million venture to capture methane emissions from hog farms.

“It’s good for their business,” said Marcus Gillette, spokesman for the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, an industry lobbying group. “Many are on missions to decrease emissions from their side of the energy sector as much as possible.”

Until now, nearly all the market for biomethane has come from bus fleets and other vehicles that are able to use state and federal subsidies to make the fuel competitive with fossil gas. Production of the fuel doubled between 2015 and 2018 to 304 million ethanol gallons equivalent thanks to the incentives, according to a report from consulting firm Bates White.

Today about three quarters of renewable natural gas production is still used for transportation, though Gillette said that is shifting as more utilities seek to provide it for heating, cooking and industrial uses.

Some states are more aggressive in bolstering the renewable natural gas industry than others.

Oregon, for example, passed a bill in August that sets a goal of making renewable natural gas account for 30% of what is carried in the state’s gas pipeline network by 2050.

California, meanwhile, has mandated a 40 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030, something that will spell specific regulatory curbs on agriculture in the coming years. Methane accounts for about 9 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, half of which comes from livestock.

For Airoso, that made tapping into the growing biomethane market an easy decision. “We’ve got a $10 mln investment here, so I had to figure out how I protect my investment,” he said.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Let it burn: U.S. fights wildfires with fire, controlled burns

Ground fuels burn during a controlled burn administered by the U.S. Forest Service north of Gallina, New Mexico, U.S. August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

By Andrew Hay

COYOTE, N.M. (Reuters) – It was the kind of fire that has terrified communities across the drought-ridden U.S. West in the past few years: a ponderosa pine forest ablaze in the mountains of New Mexico filling the air with thick, aromatic smoke.

Except this fire was deliberately set by state penitentiary prisoners, dressed in red flame-resistant clothing and dripping a mix of gasoline and diesel around trees and scrub.

The managed burn — a low-intensity controlled fire – was meant to clear undergrowth and protect the Santa Fe National Forest, and surrounding villages, from future wildfires that are growing more frequent and severe across the West with climate change.

After a century of trying to extinguish blazes within hours, U.S. forest managers are increasingly starting them or letting natural fires burn to clean out fuel that can turn a wildfire into a catastrophe that destroys watersheds and homes.

Above-average moisture levels this summer have reduced the number of large wildfires across the country and allowed more controlled fires that mimic lightning strikes.

“We learned from our mistakes of putting fires out, building up a continuous fuel base,” said James Casaus, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) official running the managed fire near mountains where his grandfather used to burn forest clearings to improve sheep pasture.

The federal shift took on new urgency after wildfires burned over 10 million acres in both 2015 and 2017, the highest rates since 1952, according to National Interagency Fire Center data. At the same time, federal and state firefighting costs more than tripled to more than $4.5 billion in the decade to 2018.

The tipping point came last year when flames engulfed Paradise, California, killing 86 people in the state’s deadliest wildfire on record as the number of homes and structures destroyed nationwide more than doubled from 2017.

Walking around the ruins of Paradise, President Donald Trump blamed the tragedy on California’s poor forest management, even though the blaze began in an area of federal forest.

In December, he signed an executive order to speed projects to reduce “hazardous fuels” through forest thinning, burning and a nearly 20% increase in USFS timber sales.

Environmentalists generally welcomed the shift towards “forest restoration”, but were alarmed by Trump’s tactics, especially increased logging.

LOG JAM OR EXCUSE TO LOG?

The USFS, distrusted by some environmentalists for its role as a giant timber agency during much of its history, in June proposed a change to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to exclude certain projects from environmental assessments (EAs) and public comment to speed hazardous fuel and restoration work.

Controversially, these categorical exclusions included projects to log up to 6.6 square miles (17.09 square km) of forest and were not limited to areas near communities but applied to all national forests.

“What this rule does is it is an excuse to ramp up damaging logging and road-building on national forests,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director for the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, who expected the move to be challenged in court.

In an emailed statement, USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen said logging played a role in fuel reduction work, but most of it was achieved by other means.

“While timber production does contribute to hazardous fuels accomplishments, the majority of our annual fuel reduction comes from activities such as non-commercial mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, federally funded state assistance programs, and naturally occurring wildfires,” said Christiansen, a former wildland firefighter.

She said studies of hundreds of past USFS projects showed activities earmarked for exclusion from EAs and public comment posed no significant impact to forest health.

“We found we do more analysis than we need, take more time than we need and slow down important work to protect communities, livelihoods and resources,” she said.

GETTING IT DONE

Christiansen expects the 2020 budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 to drive hazard fuel reduction long held back by the cost of fighting fires.

USFS fire suppression costs have skyrocketed since the 1980s as the agency found itself defending the mushrooming number of U.S. homes in areas at risk to wildfires.

Firefighting consumed 57% of the USFS budget in 2018, up from 16% in 1995, forcing the agency to raid other internal programs to pay for rising suppression costs.

Christiansen expects USFS hazardous fuel and restoration work to remain at around 3.4 million acres in 2019 but sees projects increasing in 2020 when “fire borrowing” ends following creation of a disaster fund to pull from should suppression costs go over budget.

“This will make our agency budget more stable and will free up funds to accomplish critical on-the-ground work that creates healthy, resilient forests,” Christiansen said.

U.S. states, which share the burden of frontline and prescribed burns, want some of those liberated funds, given forecasts that wildfire acreage and severity will continue to climb, said Jay Farrell, executive director of the National Association of State Foresters.

Back in New Mexico, Daniel Lara sloshes burning fuel onto scrub oak as fellow New Mexico State Penitentiary inmates torch trees and scrub that, if left to grow, can send fires into the forest canopy, creating a blaze that is difficult to contain.

“It needs to be thinned out, all of it,” says Lara, who received a week’s classroom training, as he started his 12-hour shift in the forest. “Hopefully we’ll get it done.”

(Reporting By Andrew Hay in Coyote, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Paul Simao)

UK faces food, fuel and drug shortages, says contested leaked document

FILE PHOTO: A line of trucks is seen during a trial between disused Manston Airport and the Port of Dover of how road will cope in case of a "no-deal" Brexit, Kent Britain January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

By Kate Holton and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, according to leaked official documents reported by the Sunday Times whose interpretation was immediately contested by ministers.

Setting out a vision of jammed ports, public protests and widespread disruption, the paper said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst-case scenarios.

But Michael Gove, the minister in charge of coordinating “no-deal” preparations, challenged that interpretation, saying the documents did set out a worst-case scenario and that planning had been accelerated in the last three weeks.

The Times said up to 85% of lorries using the main Channel crossings may not be ready for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improved.

The government also believes a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, will be likely as plans to avoid widespread checks will prove unsustainable, the Times said.

“Compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the codename Operation Yellowhammer, the dossier offers a rare glimpse into the covert planning being carried out by the government to avert a catastrophic collapse in the nation’s infrastructure,” the Times reported.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it did not comment on leaked documents. But Gove said it was an old document that did not reflect current preparedness.

“It is the case, as everyone knows, that if we do have a no-deal exit there will inevitably be some disruption, some bumps in the road. That’s why we want a deal,” Gove told reporters.

“But it is also the case that the UK government is far more prepared now than it was in the past, and it’s also important for people to recognize that what’s being described in these documents… is emphatically a worst-case scenario,” Gove added.

A government source blamed the leak on an unnamed former minister who wanted to influence negotiations with the EU.

“This document is from when ministers were blocking what needed to be done to get ready to leave and the funds were not available,” said the source, who declined to be named. “It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.”

NO TURNING BACK

The United Kingdom is heading toward a constitutional crisis and a showdown with the EU as Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce.

Yet after more than three years of Brexit dominating EU affairs, the bloc has repeatedly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said on Twitter he had signed a piece of legislation which set in stone the repeal of the 1972 European Communities act – the laws which made Britain a member of the organization now known as the EU.

Though his move was largely procedural, in line with previously approved laws, Barclay said in a statement: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back (from Brexit).”

A group of more than 100 lawmakers wrote to Johnson calling for an emergency recall of parliament to discuss the situation.

“We face a national emergency, and parliament must now be recalled in August and sit permanently until October 31 so that the voices of the people can be heard, and that there can be proper scrutiny of your government,” the letter said.

Johnson will this week tell French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Westminster parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one.

Merkel said during a panel discussion at the Chancellery: “We are prepared for any outcome, we can say that, even if we do not get an agreement. But at all events, I will make an effort to find solutions – up until the last day of negotiations.”

Johnson is coming under pressure from politicians across the political spectrum to prevent a disorderly departure, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to bring down Johnson’s government to delay Brexit.

It is, however, unclear if lawmakers have the unity or power to use the British parliament to prevent a no-deal departure, likely to be the UK’s most significant foreign policy move since World War Two.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and David Holmes)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards impound foreign ship in the Gulf: state TV

FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has seized a foreign ship smuggling fuel in the Gulf, state television quoted Iran’s elite force as saying in a statement on Thursday.

“A foreign vessel smuggling one million litres of fuel in the Larak Island of the Persian Gulf has been seized,” the station said, adding that the ship was seized on Sunday.

Iranian state TV earlier said the seized vessel was the same one Iran towed after it sent a distress call on Sunday, but there was no confirmation of this in the statement issued by the Revolutionary Guards about the impounded vessel.

The Guards, who have yet to name the vessel concerned, said they had seized no other ship in the Gulf.

Iranian navy vessels came to the assistance of a disabled foreign oil tanker in the Gulf that needed repairs, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the semi-official news agency ISNA.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jon Boyle)

Indonesian quake survivors scavenging in ‘zombie town’; president ramps up aid

Policemen walk at the ruins of a church after an earthquake hit Jono Oge village in Sigi, Indonesia's Sulawesi island, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Fathin Ungku

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Hungry survivors of an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia said on Wednesday they were scavenging for food in farms as President Joko Widodo made a second visit to the area to ramp up aid efforts five days after disaster struck.

The official death toll from the 7.5 magnitude quake that hit the west coast of Sulawesi island last Friday rose to 1,407, many killed by tsunami waves it triggered.

A ship is seen stranded on the shore after the earthquake and tsunami hit an area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A ship is seen stranded on the shore after the earthquake and tsunami hit an area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

But officials fear the toll could soar, as most of the confirmed dead have come from Palu, a small city 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, and losses in remote areas remain unknown, as communications are down, and bridges and roads have been destroyed or blocked by landslides.

National disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said most of the aid effort had been concentrated in Palu, where electricity supply has yet to be restored.

But rescue workers have begun to reach more remote areas in a disaster zone that encompasses 1.4 million people.

Johnny Lim, a restaurant owner reached by telephone in Donggala town, said he was surviving on coconuts.

“It’s a zombie town. Everything’s destroyed. Nothing’s left,” Lim said over a crackling line.

“We’re on our last legs. There’s no food, no water.”

Debris and damaged property are seen following an earthquake in Petobo, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018, in this still image obtained from a social media video. Palang Merah Indonesia (Red Cross)/via REUTERS.

Debris and damaged property are seen following an earthquake in Petobo, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018, in this still image obtained from a social media video. Palang Merah Indonesia (Red Cross)/via REUTERS.

In another part of Donggala district, which has a population of 300,000 people, Ahmad Derajat, said survivors were scavenging for food in fields and orchards.

“What we’re relying on right now is food from farms and sharing whatever we find like sweet potatoes or bananas,” said Derajat whose house was swept away by the tsunami leaving a jumble of furniture, collapsed tin roofs and wooden beams.

“Why aren’t they dropping aid by helicopter?” he asked.

Aid worker Lian Gogali described a perilous situation in Donggala, which includes a string of cut-off, small towns along a coast road north of Palu close to the quake’s epicenter.

“Everyone is desperate for food and water. There’s no food, water, or gasoline. The government is missing,” Gogali said, adding that her aid group had only been able to send in a trickle of rations by motorbike.

Underlining a growing sense of urgency, President Widodo made his second visit to the disaster zone, putting on an orange hard hat to talk to rescue workers at a collapsed hotel in Palu.

“What I’ve observed after returning now is heavy equipment has arrived, logistics have started to arrive although it’s not at maximum yet, fuel has partly arrived,” Widodo told reporters.

A mother and her son, both injured by the earthquake and tsunami, wait to be airlifted out by a military plane at Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A mother and her son, both injured by the earthquake and tsunami, wait to be airlifted out by a military plane at Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

‘PRESIDENT NOT HEARING’

Widodo, who will seek re-election next year, called on Tuesday for reinforcements in the search for victims, saying everyone had to be found. He repeated that on Wednesday, after inspecting what he called an “evacuation” effort at the Hotel Roa Roa, where he said some 30 people lay buried in the ruins.

Yahdi Basma, a leader from a village south of Palu hoping to get his family on a cargo plane out, said Widodo had no idea of the extent of the suffering.

“The president is not hearing about the remote areas, only about the tsunami and about Palu,” he said.

“There are hundreds of people still buried under the mud in my village … There is no aid whatsoever which is why we’re leaving.”

At least seven cargo planes arrived at Palu airport earlier on Wednesday carrying tonnes of aid, some bedecked in the red and white national colors and stamped with the presidential office seal declaring: “Assistance from the President of Republic of Indonesia”.

The quake brought down hotels, shopping malls and thousands of houses in Palu, while tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet) scoured its beachfront shortly afterward.

About 1,700 houses in one neighborhood were swallowed up by ground liquefaction, which happens when soil shaken by an earthquake behaves like a liquid, and hundreds of people are believed to have perished, the disaster agency said.

Indonesian Red Cross disaster responders said the village of Petobo, just south of Palu, which was home to almost 500 people, had been “wiped off the map”.

“They are finding devastation and tragedy everywhere,” Iris van Deinse, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

Nearby, rescue workers, some using an excavator, were searching for 52 children missing since liquefaction destroyed their bible study camp. Bodies of 35 of the children have been found.

Aircraft, tents, water treatment facilities and generators were the main needs for survivors including more than 70,000 displaced people, according to the national disaster mitigation agency spokesman.

Sitting on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to quakes and tsunamis. A quake in 2004 triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Adding to Sulawesi’s woes, the Soputan volcano in the north of the island, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of Palu, erupted on Wednesday but there were no reports of casualties or damage.

(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Maikel Jefriando, Tabita Diela, Gayatri Suroyo, Fransiska Nangoy, Fanny Potkin, Ed Davies and Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in GENEVA and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)