Iran holds election, hardliners set to dominate with turnout key

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians voted on Friday in a parliamentary election likely to help hardline loyalists of the supreme leader tighten their grip on power as the country faces mounting U.S. pressure over its nuclear program and growing discontent at home.

State television said voting, which began at 0430 GMT, would run for 10 hours but could be extended depending on turnout. In mid-afternoon, an Interior Ministry official told state TV that about 11 million of 58 million eligible voters had cast their ballots for candidates in the 290-member parliament.

The election is seen as a referendum on the popularity of the clerical establishment given that most moderates and leading conservative candidates were barred from running.

With thousands of potential candidates disqualified in favor of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s allies, the vote is not expected to ease Iran’s nuclear standoff with the United States or spawn a softer foreign policy.

Parliament’s power is limited, but gains by security hawks could weaken pragmatists and conservatives who support the ruling theocracy but also more economically beneficial engagement with the West, from which Tehran has been estranged since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A rise in the number of hardliners in the assembly may also help them in the 2021 contest for president, a job with broad daily control of government. Pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani won the last two elections on promises to open Iran to the outside world.

The United States’ 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard and led to widespread hardships.

A U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s most prominent military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq on Jan. 3. Iran retaliated by firing ballistic missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq, killing no one but causing brain injuries in over 100 soldiers.

Encouraging Iranians to vote, state TV aired footage of people lined up at polling stations set up mainly at mosques.

“I am here to vote. It is my duty to follow martyr Soleimani’s path,” said a young voter at a mosque at a cemetery, where Soleimani is buried in his hometown.

Soleimani, architect of Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was a national hero to many Iranians. He was Iran’s most powerful figure after Khamenei.

“Each vote put into the ballot box is a missile into the heart of America,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the aerospace unit of the Revolutionary Guards.

Rouhani urged Iranians to “further disappoint the enemies” by voting in large numbers.

But weariness among women and the young, who comprise a majority of voters, about high unemployment and restrictions on social freedoms looked likely to depress the turnout.

LOWER TURNOUT LOOMS

Iranians who joined large protests in November called on their leaders to focus on improving the battered economy and tackling state corruption, also urging Khamenei to step down.

“I don’t care about this election. Moderates or hardliners, they are all alike. We are getting poorer with each passing day,” university student Pouriya, 24, said by telephone from the city of Isfahan. “I am leaving Iran soon. There are no jobs, no future for us.”

Iranian authorities forecast a turnout of about 50%, compared to 62% and 66% respectively in the 2016 and 2012 votes.

Iranians contacted by Reuters in several cities by telephone said turnout was low.

“In my area in central Tehran not many people are voting. There is one polling station just beside my house in Javadiyeh and only a handful of voters were there when I last checked an hour ago,” said sports teacher Amirhossein, 28.

With Iran facing deepening isolation on the global stage and discontent at home over economic privations, analysts described the election as a litmus test of the leaders’ handling of the political and economic crises.

Health ministry authorities advised voters not to be concerned about the threat of new coronavirus cases, as Tehran confirmed 13 new ones on Friday, two of whom have died.

“RELIGIOUS DUTY”

The slate of hardline candidates is dominated by acolytes of Khamenei, including former members of the Guards, who answer directly to the supreme leader, and their affiliated Basij militia, insiders and analysts say.

Former Guards commander Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf tops the parliamentary list of the main hardline coalition for Tehran’s 30 seats in the assembly.

Khamenei was the first to cast his ballot, saying voting is “a religious duty”.

The Guardian Council removed 6,850 moderates and leading conservatives from the field, citing various grounds for the rejections including “corruption and being unfaithful to Islam”.

That left voters with a choice mostly between hardline and low-key conservative candidates. On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on members of the Council over the candidate bans.

Iran’s rulers have faced a legitimacy crisis since last year when protests over a fuel price hike turned political with demonstrators calling for “regime change”. The unrest was met with the bloodiest crackdown since the Islamic Revolution, with hundreds of protesters killed.

Many Iranians are also angry over the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in error in January that killed all 176 people on board, mainly Iranians. After days of denials, Tehran said the Guards were to blame.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Georgy and Mark Heinrich)

How cat videos could cause a ‘climate change nightmare’

By Umberto Bacchi

TBILISI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A stone’s throw from a power station on the barren outskirts of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, a grey warehouse surrounded by metal containers hums to the sound of money.

Inside, hundreds of computer servers work continuously to solve complicated mathematical equations generating the digital currency Bitcoin – burning enough electricity to power tens of thousands of homes in the process.

“Any high-performance computing … is energy intensive,” explained Joe Capes of global blockchain company The Bitfury Group, which operates the facility in Tbilisi.

Cryptocurrencies are one of several new technologies, like artificial intelligence and 5G networks, that climate experts worry could derail efforts to tackle global warming by consuming ever-growing amounts of power.

Data centres processing and storing data from online activities, such as sending emails and streaming videos, already account for about 1% of global electricity use, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

That’s about the same amount of electricity that Australia consumes in a year.

But as societies become more digitalised, computing is expected to account for up to 8% of the world’s total power demand by 2030, according to some estimates, raising fears this could lead to the burning of more fossil fuels.

“If we don’t take into account the carbon footprint, we are going to have a climate change nightmare coming from information technology,” said Babak Falsafi, a professor of computer and communication science at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne.

EFFICIENT DATA

One solution is to improve the efficiency of data centres, which is something operators are naturally prone to do since electricity accounts for a large share of their running costs, according to data experts.

“As a rule of thumb, a megawatt costs a million dollars per year … This obviously catches management’s attention,” said Dale Sartor, who oversees the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center of Expertise for Data Centers in Berkeley, California.

Energy demand from data centres in the United States has remained largely flat over the past decade as improvements in computing have allowed processors to do more with the same amount of power, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

But that is set to change, predict tech analysts.

The 50-year-old trend known as Moore’s Law, which has seen computer chips double in capacity every two years, is expected to slow down as it becomes harder to add any more transistors to a chip.

Some companies have been looking at other ways to make savings.

In Georgia, where most electricity is generated by hydropower, Bitfury deployed a system to reduce the energy needed to cool down its heating servers.

Cooling can account for up to half of a data centre’s total energy use, the company says.

While some of its processors are still cooled with outside air, others are immersed inside metal tanks filled with a special liquid with a low boiling point.

As the liquid boils, the vapour transfers heat away from the processors, keeping them fresh and allowing the company to do away with fans and save water.

“Air is free … but it is not efficient,” explained Capes, who heads Bitfury’s liquid cooling technology subsidiary, adding that the system consumes 40% less electricity than traditional air cooling solutions.

Others have taken similar steps.

A Google data centre in Finland uses recycled seawater to reduce energy use while some companies have opened facilities near the Arctic Circle to benefit from naturally cold air.

But improving efficiency “can only get you so far”, said Elizabeth Jardim, a senior corporate campaigner at environmental group Greenpeace. “At some point you will have to address the type of energy that is powering the facility.”

Tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have committed to using only renewable energy but some still use fossil fuels, and more needs to be done to bring others on board, she said.

Jardim suggested governments enact policies to incentivise tech companies to procure green energy and increase transparency around the data sector’s carbon footprint.

LESS CAT VIDEOS

Meanwhile, internet users can also play a role by switching to greener companies or simply reducing their data use, said Jardim.

“Right now data pretty much is equivalent to energy, so the more data something takes the more energy you can assume it’s using,” she said.

Simply sending a photo by email can emit about the same amount of planet-warming gases as driving a car for a kilometre, said Luigi Carafa, executive director of the Climate Infrastructure Partnership, a Barcelona-based non-profit.

“The problem is we don’t really see this, so we don’t perceive it as a problem at all,” he said by phone.

A 2019 study by energy supplier OVO Energy found that if Britons sent one less email a day the country could reduce its carbon output by the equivalent of more than 81,000 flights from London to Madrid.

Global online video viewings alone generated as many carbon emissions as the whole of Spain in 2018, according to French think tank The Shift Project.

“People can already reduce their carbon emissions today if they stop watching cat videos,” said Falsafi, the Lausanne professor, who heads the university’s research centre for sustainable computing, EcoCloud.

“Unfortunately, they are neither aware of the issue nor incentivised to reduce carbon emissions.”

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi; Editing by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Dallas orders curfew after tornado shreds homes; thousands without power

Dallas orders curfew after tornado shreds homes; thousands without power
(Reuters) – Police declared a curfew on Monday in parts of Dallas where a powerful tornado tore apart homes and flipped cars, leaving tens of thousands without power for a second night.

Three people were reported hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries after the Sunday storm ripped through north Dallas with maximum wind speeds of 140 mph (225 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

Emergency management workers went door to door in areas such as Preston Hollow and Richardson, checking homes without roofs or crushed by fallen trees, tagging structures with orange spray paint.

“#DallasTornado you took my job! my school!” one Twitter user, Monica Badillo, posted, along with images of shattered windows and debris at Primrose School in Preston Hollow, where she said she worked.

The Dallas Police Department (DPD) asked residents to stay indoors between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and told non-residents to stay out of areas where the twister left a miles-long swath of destruction.

“DPD is urging residents to remain vigilant and not enter the impacted areas for their own safety,” the department said, adding it had received reports of looting that had so far turned out to be false.

Dozens of residents were expected to spend the night at a leisure complex turned into a shelter near Love Field Airport, city authorities said.

The winds were powerful enough to cave in a Home Depot <HD.N> do-it-yourself store, leaving a mangled mess of ceiling beams.

The tornado caused traffic chaos, with numerous roads blocked and dozens of stop lights out, transport authorities said.

Fire rescue officials said it would take another day to make a final assessment of the destruction, with less than half of the affected area checked by nightfall.

About 42,000 people were without power by Monday evening, according to utility firm Oncor, which pressed helicopters and drones into its effort to find and fix damaged lines.

Some residents should prepare for a possible multi-day outage as destroyed electric equipment is rebuilt, it added.

Although no fatalities were reported in the Dallas area, severe storms were blamed for at least three deaths in Oklahoma and one in Arkansas, state authorities said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Gabriella Borter in New York and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Clarence Fernandez)

Turkey’s opposition strikes blow to Erdogan with Istanbul mayoral win

Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), greets supporters at a rally of in Beylikduzu district, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his ever tighter grip on power.

Ekrem Imamoglu of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, the head of the High Election Board announced on Monday – a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago.

The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities. The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat.

On Sunday and in the early hours Monday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes.

“In this city today, you have fixed democracy. Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning.

“We came to embrace everyone,” he said. “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice. In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.”

Erdogan congratulated him for the victory and Imamoglu’s rival, Binali Yildirim of the ruling AK Party (AKP), wished him luck as mayor barely two hours after polls closed.

WANING SUPPORT

Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, becoming the country’s most dominant politician since its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, nearly a century ago.

His AKP has strong support among pious and conservative Turks and its stewardship of Turkey’s economy through a decade and a half of construction-fuelled growth helped Erdogan win more than a dozen national and local elections.

But economic recession and a financial crisis have eroded that support and Erdogan’s ever-tighter control over government has alarmed some voters.

Turkey’s lira tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down 8% this year, in part on election jitters.

But assets rallied on Monday as investors welcomed the removal of one source of political uncertainty. The lira firmed 1% against the dollar, shares rose nearly 2% and bond yields fell.

Imamoglu won support even in traditionally pious Istanbul districts, once known as AK Party strongholds, ending the 25-year-long Islamist rule in the country’s largest city.

“This re-run (election) was one to put an end to the dictatorship,” said Gulcan Demirkaya, a 48-year-old housewife in Istanbul’s AKP-leaning Kagithane district. “God willing, I would like to see him as the president in five years’ time. The one-man rule should come to an end.”

FALLOUT IN ANKARA

The results are likely to trigger a new chapter in Turkish politics, now that the country’s top three cities now held by the opposition. Cracks could also emerge within Erdogan’s AKP, bringing the economic troubles more to the fore.

“This is definitely going to have an impact on the future of Turkish politics given the margin of victory. It’s alarming sign for the AKP establishment,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and former Turkish diplomat.

Analysts say the loss could set off a Cabinet reshuffle in Ankara and adjustments to foreign policy. The leader of the AKP’s nationalist ally played down the prospect that the loss could even trigger a national election earlier 2023, when the next polls are scheduled.

“The election process should close,” MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said. “Talking of an early election would be among the worst things that can be done to our country.”

The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul and potential delays in broader economic reforms have kept financial markets on edge. Threats of sanctions by the United States if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses have also weighed on the markets.

A Council of Europe delegation said its observers were given a “less than friendly reception” in some places and had “too many unnecessarily aggressive and argumentative encounters to ignore,” but that the election was conducted competently.

“The citizens of Istanbul elected a new mayor in a well-organized and transparent vote, albeit in tense circumstances,” delegation head Andrew Dawson said in a statement.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren Butler; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Preparing for disasters. Yes, it can happen to you.

Hurricane Michael survivor Yvette Beasley stands in her front yard during a wellbeing check by a 50 Star Search and Rescue team in Fountain, Florida, U.S., October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Kami Klein

The statistics on a recent emergency preparation survey commissioned by the National Ad Council stated that 60 percent of Americans believe that preparation for natural or man-made disasters is of great importance to them, yet only an astounding 17 percent claim to be completely prepared for an emergency situation.  

Regardless of how many massive catastrophes people have seen on the news or heard of from friends or relatives, despite the ad campaigns on preparedness by communities and state governments, the common sense notion of preparing for an emergency gets pushed aside. This can and does have great consequences for whole communities.  

In 2016 the US Navy, Coast Guard, and Washington state’s National Guard created a full-scale, nine-day drill to test how well they could respond to a massive earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. That area covers Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland through northern California.

The 83-page report comes to many deeply concerning conclusions. The authors admit the systems are not ready, infrastructure would collapse, and they’d have a full-blown humanitarian crisis in ten days.

In the summations it was written:

“Through the two-year ramp-up and the culminating functional and full-scale exercises, the following overall conclusions can be drawn:  There is an urgent need for residents to prepare.  Despite the ongoing public education efforts and community preparedness programs, our families, communities, schools, hospitals, and businesses are not prepared for the catastrophic disaster that a worst-case earthquake would cause.”

According to the World Health Organization, every year natural disasters kill around 90,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. Natural disasters include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts.

Emergency management professionals say people do understand that they should prepare for disasters but when it comes to something in life that creates fear and when you have never experienced a disaster situation personally, the human mind will rationalize and think “Those bad things won’t happen to me.” There are others who will also put the thoughts out of their minds and believe that rescue groups will bring what they need to their family in the event that they are in an emergency situation.  The reality of mass disasters proves over and over again that there is never enough help and many times it can be impossible to get to those that are affected because of great damage to roads and infrastructure.

Recently the massive flooding in our country’s breadbasket, caused by incredible storms and mountain snowmelt created islands of muddied silt instead of acres of farmland.  It has been weeks since this event and yet many communities have been without electricity and their water systems because crews are still having trouble getting to them. Worse yet, there have been round after round of intense storms, tornadoes and heavy rains contributing to the flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers which is impeding the recovery efforts.

Facts are best for combating fear. The weather is an unpredictable force. In the United States alone, we average, 8 hurricanes a year, 2 that are major.  Last year we experienced a whopping 66,535 earthquakes that average at a  2.5 and above. Every season, the U.S. will be pounded by at least 1,154 tornados. In 2018 alone there were 58,083 wildfires. The likelihood that at some time you and your family could be involved in a disaster situation is higher than any of us want to believe.

The responsibility of preparing belongs to every family. There are basics to have on hand that not only will help you survive the worst but give you security when those panicked moments arrive with little time to respond.  Food and water are top on the list along with flashlights, and a source to cook meals. While some emergency personnel recommends only a 72 hour supply, that number is quickly changing due to the increased knowledge found in experiencing these catastrophes to having “at the very least” a two week supply on hand.  

A very good resource for what you need for your emergency kits and supplies can be found at Ready.gov.  Professional emergency management teams encourage you to look at the posted guidelines in the same way as you do with your insurance policies.  Become “matter of fact” about the possibilities and simply begin. By taking one step at a time there will be no reason to feel overwhelmed.

If you need inspiration, please read the testimony “It can happen to you” by Evonne Richard. whose family survived the deadly storm April 27th, 2011 in Apison, Tennessee. This town had been home to her for over 30 years with never a tornado or disaster.  The community was wiped out, many dead and the aftermath quite chaotic. But only weeks before the storm, Evonne observed a billboard regarding “How to Prepare” and felt compelled to act on it.  Her story will inspire you to do the same.

We cannot count on government offices nor rescue groups to help us in times of disaster. Most will be overwhelmed.  These unexpected events will continue to come. Together we must learn to count on ourselves to have on hand what we need for survival.  It isn’t a whim, nor is it something to put off. With the statistics of the possibilities that can and will happen to most of us in a lifetime, it makes common sense!!   

Morningside believes strongly in the practice of preparing.  We want you to be ready for anything to help your family and your community. In order to stay on the air and support this ministry, Morningside does have special offers of survival items including food, generators, water filtration, and other great items. These items are well researched and in most cases at a reduced price from items you can find online.  Don’t forget that you can also check out PTLshop.com YOUR faith-based shopping network!

Start Preparing!  It is one of the few things in life you will never regret.  

 

Venezuela congress declares ‘state of alarm’ over blackout

People collect water released through a sewage drain that feeds into the Guaire River, which carries most of the city's wastewater, in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Shaylim Valderrama and Anggy Polanco

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition-run congress on Monday declared a “state of alarm” over a five-day power blackout that has crippled the OPEC member country’s oil exports and left millions of citizens scrambling to find food and water.

Much of Venezuela remained without power on Monday, although electricity had largely returned to the capital of Caracas following an outage that began on Thursday and which President Nicolas Maduro has called an act of U.S.-backed sabotage.

The outage has added to discontent in a country already suffering from hyperinflation and a political crisis after opposition leader Juan Guaido assumed the interim presidency in January after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.

Venezuelan citizens living in Bogota protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and the continuing power outage in Venezuela, in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Julio Martinez

Venezuelan citizens living in Bogota protest against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and the continuing power outage in Venezuela, in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Julio Martinez

“Nothing is normal in Venezuela, and we will not allow this tragedy to be considered normal, which is why we need this decree of a state of alarm,” said Guaido, who heads the legislature, during the session on Monday.

The constitution allows the president to declare states of alarm amid catastrophes that “seriously compromise the security of the nation,” but does not explicitly say what practical impact such a declaration would have.

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the United States and most Western countries, but Maduro retains control of the armed forces and state institutions, and the backing of Russia and China, among others.

Oil industry sources said that exports from the primary port of Jose had been halted for lack of power, cutting off Venezuela’s primary source of revenue.

During the legislative session, Guaido called for a halt in shipments of oil to Maduro’s political ally Cuba, which has received discounted crude from Venezuela for nearly two decades. The deals have drawn scrutiny from the opposition and its allies abroad as Venezuela’s economic crisis worsened.

“We ask for the international community’s cooperation to make this measure effective so that the oil the Venezuelan people urgently need to attend to this national emergency is not given away,” Guaido said.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton backed the measure, writing on Twitter that, “insurance companies and flag carriers that facilitate these give-away shipments to Cuba are now on notice.” He did not specify any measures the U.S. government may take.

Earlier on Monday, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on a Russian bank over its dealings with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Russia’s Rosneft for buying PDVSA oil.

People collect water released through a sewage drain that feeds into the Guaire River, which carries most of the city's wastewater, in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

People collect water released through a sewage drain that feeds into the Guaire River, which carries most of the city’s wastewater, in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

RESTORATION ‘COMPLEX’

The blackout has left food rotting in refrigerators, hospitals have struggled to keep equipment operating, and people have clustered on the streets of Caracas to pick up patchy telephone signals to reach relatives abroad.

On Monday, Venezuelans seeking water formed lines to fill containers from a sewage pipe.

“This is driving me crazy,” said Naile Gonzalez in Chacaito, a commercial neighborhood of Caracas. “The government doesn’t want to accept that this is their fault because they haven’t carried out any maintenance in years.”

Venezuela’s electrical grid has suffered from years of underinvestment. Restrictions on imports have affected the provision of spare parts, while many skilled technical personnel have fled the country amid an exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans in recent years.

Winston Cabas, the president of an electrical engineers’ professional association, told reporters that several of the country’s thermoelectric plants were operating at just 20 percent of capacity, in part due to lack of fuel. He said the government was rationing electricity.

The process of restoring service was “complex” and could take between five and six days, he said.

“We once had the best electricity system in the world – the most vigorous, the most robust, the most powerful – and those who now administer the system have destroyed it,” he said.

A source at PDVSA also said the government had decided to ration electricity, in part to supply power to the Jose oil export terminal.

The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Experts consulted by Reuters believe the nationwide blackout originated in transmission lines that transport energy from the Guri hydroelectric plant to the Venezuelan south.

The lack of electricity has aggravated a crisis in Venezuelan hospitals, already lacking investment and maintenance in addition to a shortage of medicines.

School and work activities are set to be suspended on Tuesday, the third working day in a row.

(Reporting by Shaylim Valderrama, Vivian Sequera, Anggy Polanco, and Deisy Buitrago; additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; writing by Daniel Flynn, Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen; editing by Grant McCool and Rosalba O’Brien)

German Catholic Church apologizes for ‘pain’ of abuse victims

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of German Bishops's Conference attends a press conference to present the findings of a study into the report of sexual abuse by Catholic priests of thousands of children over a 70-year period in Fulda, Germany, September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Riham Alkousaa and Maria Sheahan

BERLIN (Reuters) – The head of the Catholic Church in Germany apologized on Tuesday “for all the failure and pain”, after a report found thousands of children had been sexually abused by its clergy and said the “guilty must be punished”.

Researchers from three German universities examined 38,156 personnel files spanning a 70-year period ending in 2014, and found indications of sexual abuse by 1,670 clerics, with more than 3,700 possible victims.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported the findings earlier this month after the report was leaked. The scandal comes as the church is grappling with new abuse cases in countries including Chile, the United States, and Argentina.

“Those who are guilty must be punished,” Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said at a news conference to launch the report in the city of Fulda.

“For too long in the church, we have looked away, denied, covered up and didn’t want it to be true,” he added.

“All this must not remain without consequences. Those affected are entitled to justice,” Marx said, without specifying what consequences perpetrators might face.

“For all the failure, pain and suffering, I must apologize as the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference as well as personally,” he said.

“The study .. makes it clear to us that the Catholic Church has by no means overcome the issue of dealing with the sexual abuse of minors.”

Sexual abuse by Catholic clerics has not ended, Harald Dressing of the Central Institute of Mental Health, one of the report’s authors, told the news conference.

He said many cases were likely to have never been reported or not taken seriously enough to be noted in the files.

“The resulting numbers (in the report) are the tip of an iceberg whose actual size we cannot assess,” he added.

Around 51 percent of victims were aged 13 or younger when first abused, and most abusers committed their first offense when aged between 30 and 50, the study found.

It said 62 percent of those affected by sexual abuse were male.

“Neither homosexuality nor celibacy are the sole causes of sexual abuse of minors,” Dressing said.

“But complex interaction of sexual immaturity and the denial of homosexual inclinations in ambivalent, sometimes openly homophobic surroundings, can provide further explanation for the predominance of male victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics.”

Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley said in a statement the church had to report every case so the rule of law could apply.

“The massive abuse of trust, dependencies, and power from within the church is intolerable,” she said.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Maria Sheahan; editing by Thomas Seythal and Andrew Roche)

A year after deadly Maria, Puerto Rico still struggles with aftermath

Plastic tarps over damaged roofs are seen on houses a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Luis Valentin Ortiz

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Shuttered businesses, blue tarp roofs and extensively damaged homes can still be seen throughout Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island with 150 mile-per-hour winds, and access to electricity and fresh water remain spotty.

Last month, the U.S. Commonwealth’s government sharply raised the official estimate of Maria’s death toll to almost 3,000 after an independent study. The exact death toll figure remains unknown, and the governor has admitted his administration failed to properly record storm-related deaths.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has refused to accept the new number and continues to joust with many local officials and other critics who complain that the federal response to the storm was inadequate.

“Today is a day to remember those who are not physically with us but left a significant mark after their departure. Hurricane Maria took with it many lives that we will not overlook and that we still remember with a great weight of pain,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said Thursday ahead of a planned memorial event: “One Year After Maria” with religious leaders and government officials.

About 20,000 pallets of unused water bottles are seen along an airplane runway a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

About 20,000 pallets of unused water bottles are seen along an airplane runway a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson was also on the island, where he was expected to give an update on his agency response efforts to Hurricane Maria.

The storm knocked out power and communications to virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents while destroying the homes of thousands.

Even before the Category-4 storm hit, Puerto Rico was financially bankrupt with $120 billion in debt and pension liabilities it cannot pay. A year after Maria, the island is far from prepared for the next big storm, with an ever-fragile power grid, damaged infrastructure and the same crippling debt.

The island’s government initially put the death toll at 64, but the August study by George Washington University estimated that Maria killed 2,975 people either directly or indirectly from the time it struck in September 2017 to mid-February.

Trump has described his administration’s response to the disaster as an “unsung success” and “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.” He further said that “3000 people did not die” following Hurricane Maria.

“If he calls a success or an unsung success 3,000 people dying by his watch, definitely he doesn’t know what success is,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a vocal Trump critic, told Reuters during a recent interview.

Lucila Cabrera, 86, sits at the porch of her damaged house by Hurricane Maria, a year after the storm devastated Puerto Rico, near Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Bar

Lucila Cabrera, 86, sits at the porch of her damaged house by Hurricane Maria, a year after the storm devastated Puerto Rico, near Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

BRACING

More than 200,000 people left the island after the storm, mostly to the U.S. mainland, according to government data.

There are still some 45,000 homes with so-called “blue roofs,” or tarps installed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The San Juan mayor has noted that the island has seen only a fraction of almost $50 billion in recovery funds Congress approved for Puerto Rico, including $20 billion in HUD funds.

“Most of the people that have requested help from FEMA … have not received enough assistance to be able to take care of their problems,” Mayor Cruz said, adding that “a lot of people that don’t have a title deed and they really are not eligible to receive any type of support or help.”

The recovery process after Maria has also seen hundreds of community-driven efforts. During a forum held on Wednesday by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism, community leaders urged for a multisectoral approach to the recovery, rather than a government-only-led effort, which has proven slow and full of missteps.

“We lost people, roofs and houses, but our community worked hard to get back on its feet,” said Wilfredo Lopez, a community leader of the Sonadora neighborhood in Aguas Buenas, which had disaster-trained residents and its own protocols in place before the storm hit.

(Reporting By Luis Valentin Ortiz; Editing by Daniel Bases and David Gregorio)

Rescuers with dogs search for survivors after deadly Japan quake

A woman (C) wipes her tears after her missing father was found at an area damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 7, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kaori Kaneko and Malcolm Foster

TOKYO (Reuters) – Rescue workers with dogs searched for survivors on Friday in debris-strewn landslides caused by an earthquake in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, as electricity was restored to just over half of households.

Public broadcaster NHK put the death toll at 12, with five people unresponsive. Earlier, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said 16 had died, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga later clarified in updated numbers that nine had been confirmed dead and nine others were in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest, a term typically used before death is confirmed.

Another 24 were still missing after Thursday’s pre-dawn magnitude-6.7 quake, the latest deadly natural disaster to hit Japan over the past two months, coming after typhoons, floods and a record-breaking heat wave.

Members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 7, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 7, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Nearly 5,000 Hokkaido residents spent the night in evacuation centers where food was distributed in the morning.

“It was an anxious night with several aftershocks, but we took encouragement from being together and now we’re grateful for some food,” one woman told public broadcaster NHK.

Some 22,000 rescue workers had worked through the night to search for survivors, Abe told an emergency meeting on Friday. With rain forecast for Friday afternoon and Saturday, he urged people to be careful about loose soil that could cause unstable houses to collapse or further landslides.

“We will devote all our energy to saving lives,” Abe said.

As of Friday afternoon, Hokkaido Electric Power Co had restored power to 1.54 million of the island’s 2.95 million households. The utility aimed to raise that number to 2.4 million, or over 80 percent, by the end of Friday, industry minister Hiroshige Seko said.

Flights resumed from midday at Hokkaido’s main airport, New Chitose. The island, about the size of Austria and with 5.3 million people, is a popular tourist destination known for its mountains, lakes, rolling farmland and seafood.

Members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 7, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) search for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, northern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 7, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

LANDSLIDES WRECK HOMES

Soldiers in fatigues and orange-clad rescue workers searched for survivors, picking through debris on huge mounds of earth near the epicenter in Atsuma in southern Hokkaido. Aerial footage showed rescuers with dogs walking through the destruction.

All the missing people are from the Atsuma area, where dozens of landslides wrecked homes and other structures and left starkly barren hillsides.

“I just hope they can find him quickly,” one unidentified man told NHK as he watched the search for his missing neighbor.

The quake damaged the big Tomato-Atsuma plant, which normally supplies half of Hokkaido’s power and is located near the epicenter, forcing it to automatically shut down. That caused such instability in the grid that it tripped all other power stations on the island, causing a full blackout.

Hokkaido Electric was bringing other smaller plants back on line and also receiving some power transferred through undersea cables from the main island of Honshu.

Kansai International Airport in western Japan has been shut since Typhoon Jebi ripped through Osaka on Tuesday, although some domestic flights operated by Japan Airlines Co Ltd and ANA Holdings Inc’s low-cost carrier Peach Aviation resumed on Friday, the carriers said.

JR Hokkaido planned to resume bullet train operations from midday. It was also trying to resume other train services on Friday afternoon, a spokesman said.

Manufacturers were still affected by power outages.

Toyota Motor Corp’s Tomakomai factory, which makes transmissions and other parts, said operations remained suspended indefinitely until power was restored, a spokesman said.

Toppan Printing Co Ltd’s operations at a plant in Chitose, which makes food packages, would remain suspended until it regained power, a spokesman said.

The quake prompted Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to cancel two joint military exercises in Hokkaido, including the first-ever drill with Australian fighter jets, and a training exercise with the U.S. Marine Corps.

A soccer friendly between Japan and Chile scheduled for Friday in Hokkaido’s main city of Sapporo was also called off.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, Kaori Kaneko, Makiko Yamazaki and Osamu Tsukimori; Writing by Malcolm Foster and Chris Gallagher; Editing by Paul Tait and Christopher Cushing)

More flights canceled after Atlanta airport’s day without power

Passengers walk through the newly opened Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia May 16, 2012.

(Reuters) – Hundreds of flights were canceled into and out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, a day after a paralyzing 11-hour power outage at the world’s busiest airport left passengers marooned on airplanes idling on the tarmac.

More than 400 planned flights to or from Atlanta were scrapped and another 86 were delayed, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

The airport lost power on Sunday morning after what Georgia Power believes was an equipment failure and subsequent fire in an underground electrical facility. Power for essential activities was restored by 11.45 p.m., the utility company said.

By then, miserable would-be passengers had posted pictures and videos that were widely shared online of their confinement inside planes stuck outside darkened terminals as boredom and hunger mounted. They were all disembarked safely by about 10 p.m., nine hours after the outage began. More than 1,100 flights were canceled on Sunday.

Officials at the airport, which is run by the city of Atlanta, sought to mollify customers on Sunday with thousands of free meals, water and parking spots as power began to return.

While some stranded travelers found rooms in hotels, city authorities also provided shelter at the Georgia International Convention Center.

Delta said customers whose travel was disrupted could make a one-time change to travel plans within certain guidelines. Other airlines also offered waivers for flight changes. Delta said its flight schedule in Atlanta was expected to return to normal by Monday afternoon.

More than 100 million trips and connections began or ended at the airport in 2015, according to Airports Council International.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)