Chinese bomber approaches Taiwan in latest fly-by near island

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Chinese air force jets, including at least one bomber, briefly entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday, before being warned off by its air force, the island’s military said, the eighth such encounter in two weeks.

The encounter came on the day President Tsai Ing-wen oversaw a test flight of a new locally-developed advanced trainer jet as she pushes to boost democratic Taiwan’s defenses, particularly as China ramps up its own military modernization.

Taiwan’s air force named the Chinese aircraft involved as the H-6 bomber and J-10 fighter jet but did not say how many planes in total flew into the identification zone to the island’s southwest.

The Chinese air force received verbal warnings to leave via radio, and patrolling Taiwanese fighters also “proactively drove off” the aircraft, Taiwan’s air force said in a short statement, without giving details.

The H-6 is a nuclear-capable bomber based on an old Soviet design that has participated in several such drills near Taiwan, including what China calls “island encirclement” exercises around the Chinese claimed-island.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has previously said its drills near the island are routine and designed to show Beijing’s determination to protect its sovereignty. Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Situation at ‘boiling point’ at refugee center on Greek island: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: Refugees and migrants from the camp of Moria stand in front of riot police during a protest over the camp's conditions, near the city of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations refugee agency urged Greece on Friday to speed up transfers of eligible asylum-seekers from Aegean islands to the mainland, saying conditions at an overcrowded Lesbos reception center were “reaching boiling point”.

Lesbos, not far from Turkey in the northeastern Aegean Sea, was the preferred entry point into the European Union in 2015 for nearly a million Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis.

Those three groups still comprise more than 70 percent of those arriving in Greece, and typically have high recognition rates for their asylum claims, but the overall flow is far less than in previous years, UNHCR said.

Although 1,350 refugees and asylum seekers were transferred to mainland sites in August, this failed to ease pressure as an average of 114 people arrived daily during the month, it said.

“The situation is reaching boiling point at the Moria reception identification center on Lesbos, where more than 7,000 asylum seekers and migrants are crammed into shelters built to accommodate just 2,000 people,” Charlie Yaxley, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a Geneva briefing.

Some have been there for over six months and one quarter are children, he said. A reception center on Samos island holds 2,700, nearly four times the number it was designed for, while centers on Chios and Kos are at close to double their capacity.

“We are particularly concerned about woefully inadequate sanitary facilities, fighting amongst frustrated communities, rising levels of sexual harassment and assaults and the increasing need for medical and psycho-social care,” he said.

Yaxley could not confirm aid agency reports of possible suicide attempts among youth at the centers but said:

“There are an increasing number of children who are presenting with mental health issues. The available response and treatment is woefully inadequate at the moment.”

The Greek government has made previous commitments to transfer people to shelters on the mainland, and has received European Union funding for it, Yaxley said.

But other EU countries must help “frontline states” including Greece, Italy and Spain who receive most of the refugees and migrants, he said, adding:

“The people arriving in Europe today is a very manageable situation; it’s a question of political will.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Hunt on for survivors as Indonesia’s quake toll climbs to 131

Rescue team members prepare to find people trapped inside a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Angie Teo and Kanupriya Kapoor

KARANGPANGSOR, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from last weekend’s powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Lombok island rose to 131 on Wednesday as rescuers found more people crushed under collapsed buildings, though some still held out hope of finding survivors.

“We don’t know for sure how many people are alive under the rubble,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) told reporters in Jakarta.

Policemen stand as heavy equipment move debris for try to find people trapped inside a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Policemen stand as heavy equipment move debris for try to find people trapped inside a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

“There are reports … that there are people buried alive, it is a critical time for immediate evacuation,” he added, without giving details.

BNPB had previously put the number of dead at 105, including two on the western neighboring island of Bali, which also felt the 6.9 magnitude quake. Sutopo said the figure would rise still further.

Lombok had already been hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 29 that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

A woman was pulled alive on Tuesday from under a grocery store that fell apart in the rural north of the tropical holiday island, near the epicenter of Sunday’s quake.

Rescuers dug through the rubble of a mosque on Wednesday, hoping to reach the aunt of a sprinter who became a national hero last month at the under-20 world championships in Finland.

Salama, 52, was at a prayer class in the Karangpangsor village mosque when the quake struck. She is an aunt by marriage of Lalu Muhammad Zohri, who just over a year ago could barely afford running shoes and was hardly known outside his village.

The 18-year-old became a household name almost overnight in July when he won the 100 meters gold at the World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland. Now he carries the hopes of Indonesia at the Asian Games that the Southeast Asian nation is preparing to host in the next few weeks.

He lives two doors away from his aunt’s home.

Rescuers used a mechanical digger to clear a jumble of metal rods and concrete beside the still-intact green dome of the mosque, but there were no signs that the woman was alive and relatives appeared to have lost hope.

“Hopefully, now, with the arrival of heavy equipment, we can get her remains back,” said Husni, another family member.

Boats arrive at shore to evacuate people on the island of Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, August 6, 2018, in this still image taken from a drone video obtained from social media. Melissa Delport/@trufflejournal/via REUTERS

Boats arrive at shore to evacuate people on the island of Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia, August 6, 2018, in this still image taken from a drone video obtained from social media. Melissa Delport/@trufflejournal/via REUTERS

“GHOST TOWNS”

As hopes of finding more survivors faded, a humanitarian crisis loomed for thousands left homeless and in desperate need of clean water, food, medicine, and shelter.

About three-quarters of Lombok’s north has been without electricity since Sunday, officials said, and aid workers are finding some hamlets hard to reach because bridges and roads were torn up by the disaster.

“Teams are speaking of coming across ghost towns, villages that have essentially been abandoned,” Matthew Cochrane of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in Geneva on Tuesday.

He added that 80 percent of buildings had been damaged or destroyed, with thousands displaced.

Thousands of tourists have left Lombok since Sunday, fearing further earthquakes, some on extra flights provided by airlines and others on ferries to Bali.

Officials said that nearly 8,400 tourists and resort workers had been evacuated from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, where two people died, emptying out a destination popular for its white beaches and turquoise waters.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Neil Fullick)

As death toll on Indonesia’s Lombok tops 100, thousands wait for aid

A woman carries valuable goods from the ruins of her house at Kayangan district after earthquake hit on Sunday in North Lombok, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawihar

By Kanupriya Kapoor

KAYANGAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from a powerful earthquake that hit Indonesia’s tourist island of Lombok topped 100 on Tuesday as rescuers found victims under wrecked buildings, while thousands left homeless in the worst-affected areas waited for aid to arrive.

Health workers treat earthquake victims in the courtyard of Tanjung Hospital, North Lombok, Indonesia August 7, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

Health workers treat earthquake victims in the courtyard of Tanjung Hospital, North Lombok, Indonesia August 7, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

A woman was pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed grocery store in the north, near the epicenter of Sunday’s 6.9 magnitude quake, the second tremor to rock the tropical island in a week.

That was a rare piece of good news as hopes of finding more survivors faded and a humanitarian crisis loomed for thousands left homeless by the disaster in the rural area and in desperate need of clean water, food, medicine, and shelter.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) put the toll at 105, including two on the neighboring island of Bali to the west, where the quake was also felt – and the figure was expected to rise.

Lombok had already been hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 29 that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

People walk near the ruins of a shop after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People walk near the ruins of a shop after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

THOUSANDS SCATTERED ON HILLS

Few buildings were left standing in Kayangan on the island’s northern end, where residents told Reuters that as many as 40 died.

Some villagers used sledgehammers and ropes to start clearing the rubble of broken homes, but others, traumatized by continued aftershocks, were too afraid to venture far from tents and tarpaulins set up in open spaces.

There has been little government relief for the area, where the greatest need is for water and food, as underground water sources have been blocked by the quake and shops destroyed or abandoned.

About 75 percent of the north has been without electricity since Sunday, officials said, and some communities were hard to reach because bridges were damaged and trees, rocks, and sand lay across roads cracked wide open in places by the tremor.

“Thousands of people moved to scattered locations,” Sutopo told a news conference in Jakarta.

“People have moved to the hillsides where they feel safer. It’s difficult for help to reach them. We advise people to come down and move closer to the camps.”

Rescuers and policemen talk on top of a collapsed mosque as they try to find survivors after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Rescuers and policemen talk on top of a collapsed mosque as they try to find survivors after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Aid agency Oxfam said it was providing clean drinking water and tarpaulin shelters to 5,000 survivors, but the need was much greater, with more than 20,000 estimated to have been displaced.

“Thousands … are under open skies in need of drinking water, food, medical supplies, and clothes,” it said in a statement. “Clean drinking water is scarce due to the extremely dry weather.”

Villagers in Pemenang on Lombok’s northwestern shoulder heard cries for help emerging from the mangled concrete of a collapsed minimart on Tuesday and alerted rescuers. Four hours later they pulled out alive Nadia Revanale, 23.

“First we used our hands to clear the debris, then hammers, chisels, and machines,” Marcos Eric, a volunteer, told Reuters. “It took many hours but we’re thankful it worked and this person was found alive.”

Rescuers heard a weak voice coming from under the wreckage of a nearby two-story mosque, where four people were believed to have been trapped when the building pancaked.

“We are looking for access. We have a machine that can drill or cut through concrete, so we may use that. We are waiting for heavier equipment,” Teddy Aditya, an official of the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), told Reuters.

People push their motorcycle through the collapsed ruins of a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People push their motorcycle through the collapsed ruins of a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

TOURIST EXODUS

Thousands of tourists have left Lombok since Sunday evening, fearing further earthquakes, some on extra flights added by airlines and some on ferries to Bali.

Officials said about 4,600 foreign and domestic tourists had been evacuated from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, where two people died and fears of a tsunami spread soon after the quake.

Saffron Amis, a British student on Gili Trawangan – the largest of the islands fringed by white beaches and surrounded by turquoise sea – said at least 200 people were stranded there with more flowing in from the other two, Gili Air and Gili Meno.

“We still have no wi-fi and very little power. Gili Air has run out of food and water so they have come to us,” she told Reuters in a text message, adding later that she had been taken by boat to the main island en route to Bali.

(Additional reporting by Angie Teo and by Agustinus Beo Da Costa,; Fransiska Nangoy and Fanny Potkin in JAKARTA; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

People evacuated from Papua New Guinea island after volcano explodes

The remote island volcano of Kadovar spews ash into the sky in Papua New Guinea, January 6, 2018. SAMARITAN AVIATION/via REUTERS

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) – About 1,500 people are being evacuated from an island off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG) after a nearby volcano erupted, the local Red Cross said on Sunday.

A volcano on the island of Kadovar, located about 24 km (15 miles) north of the Papuan mainland, began erupting on Jan. 5. That prompted the evacuation of 590 people on Kadovar to the nearby island of Blup Blup.

After venting ash for several days, the volcano exploded on Friday, blasting out glowing red rocks and sulphur dioxide, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said in a bulletin. The PNG government then decided to evacuate Blup Blup as well because of issues with supplying people on the island along with the danger from the eruption.

The evacuees are being moved to the mainland and the International Red Cross is providing about 87,000 kina ($26,274) in funding to help them, said PNG Red Cross Secretary General Uvenama Rova by telephone from the capital of Port Moresby.

“The people there, as the volcano erupted, they rushed immediately to escape. So they are in immediate need of food, water, shelter and clothing as well,” he said.

In the latest bulletin issued on Sunday, the Observatory said a dome of lava on Kadover was visible in the sea at the base of thick white steam clouds that are rising to 600 meters (1,969 feet) above sea level.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced on twitter that the Australian Government was contributing A$25,000 ($19,775) worth of humanitarian supplies for those affected.

There are no confirmed records of a previous eruption of Kadovar, said Chris Firth, a vulcanologist at Macquarie University, but scientists speculate it could have been one of two “burning islands” mentioned in the journals of a 17th-century English pirate and maritime adventurer, William Dampier.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

Strong quake hits Indonesia’s Java, kills three

Map of Indonesia

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A powerful magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck the island of Java in Indonesia just before midnight on Friday, with authorities reporting three deaths and damage to hundreds of buildings.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the quake was located at a depth of 92 km (57 miles), about 52 km southwest of Tasikmalaya.

Indonesia’s national disaster management agency said the quake activated early tsunami warning systems in the south of Java, prompting thousands to evacuate from some coastal areas, but no tsunami was detected.

Tremors were felt in central and west Java.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster agency, said in a press briefing on Saturday three people had been killed, seven injured and hundreds of buildings damaged, including schools, hospitals, and government buildings in West and Central Java.

Dozens of patients had to be helped to safety from a hospital in Banyumas and were given shelter in tents, he said.

He posted on his Twitter page photos of people scouring collapsed buildings.

The quake swayed buildings for several seconds in the capital Jakarta. Some residents of high rise apartment buildings in central Jakarta quickly escaped their apartments, local media reported.

Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency said a magnitude 5.7 quake early on Saturday also struck south of West Java. It said the quake did not have tsunami potential.

Java, Indonesia’s most densely populated island, is home to more than half of its 250 million people.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor, Agustinus Da Costa and Fransiska Nangoy; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Hugh Lawson & Shri Navaratnam)

China could build nuclear plants for South China Sea, paper says

China Made Island in South China Sea

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is getting closer to building maritime nuclear power platforms that could one day be used to support projects in the disputed South China Sea, a state-run newspaper said on Friday, but the foreign ministry said it had not heard of the plans.

China has rattled nerves with its military and construction activities on the islands it occupies in the South China Sea, including building runways, though Beijing says most of the construction is meant for civilian purposes, like lighthouses.

The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said the nuclear power platforms could “sail” to remote areas and provide a stable power supply.

China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, the company in charge of designing and building the platforms, is “pushing forward the work”, said Liu Zhengguo, the head of its general office.

“The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend,” Liu told the paper. “The exact number of plants to be built by the company depends on the market demand.”

Demand is “pretty strong”, he added, without elaborating.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying played down the story as a media report, however.

“I’ve not heard here of the relevant situation,” Hua told a daily news briefing, without elaborating.

In January, two Chinese state-owned energy companies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), signed a strategic cooperation framework pact on offshore oil and nuclear power.

CGN has been developing a small modular nuclear reactor for maritime use, called the ACPR50S, to provide power for offshore oil and gas exploration and production. It expects to begin building a demonstration project in 2017.

Xu Dazhe, head of China’s atomic safety commission, told reporters in January the floating platforms were in the planning stage and must undergo “strict and scientific demonstrations”.

Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the Global Times the platforms could power lighthouses, defense facilities, airports and harbors in the South China Sea. “Normally we have to burn oil or coal for power,” Li said.

It was important to develop a maritime nuclear power platform as changing weather and ocean conditions presented a challenge in transporting fuel to the distant Spratlys, he added.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and is building islands on reefs to bolster its claims. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

(Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)