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Ferry explosion ‘injures a dozen people’ in Mexico

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A ferry has been struck by an explosion in Mexico, reportedly injuring around a dozen people who were on board.

The ferry, owned by Barcos Caribe, was docked at the tourist resort town of Playa del Carmen when one of the sides appeared to explode.

Images from the resort show the damage done to the side of the ferry, and people with injuries to their arms and legs.

Initial local reports indicate the blast may have been caused by a gas leak or an engine failure.

Contacto Urbano reports the ferry company has links to the former Governor Roberto Borge Angulo.

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Pope arrives in Iraq for historic first-ever papal trip to nation despite fears over security and coronavirus | UK News

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The Pope has arrived in Iraq for an historic weekend visit which carries both symbolism and risk.

With a message of inter-faith tolerance, Francis will spend four days in Iraq in what is his first foreign trip in more than a year and the first-ever papal pilgrimage to the war-hit nation.

Francis, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress.

Iraqis gather near Baghdad’s international airport to welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival in Iraq.
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The Pope has arrived in Iraq as the country continues to deal with coronavirus cases
Pope Francis walks down the steps of an airplane as he arrives at Baghdad international airport, Iraq, Friday, March 5, 2021. Pope Francis is heading to Iraq to urge the country...s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Pope Francis walks down the steps of an airplane as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport

A red carpet was rolled out at Baghdad International Airport with prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on hand to greet the pontiff.

A largely unmasked choir sang songs as the Pope and Mr al-Kadhimi made their way to a welcome area in the airport.

The Pope will visit the capital city Baghdad, the holy city of Najaf in the south, the ancient birthplace of Abraham at Ur and Mosul in the north, which became the capital of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in 2014 until its defeat in 2017.

Iraqis have been keen to welcome him and the global attention his visit will bring, with banners and posters hanging high in central Baghdad, and billboards depicting Francis with the slogan “We are all Brothers” decorating the main thoroughfare.

Pope Francis disembarks a plane as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport where a welcoming ceremony is held to start his historic tour in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
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The pontiff’s cassock was blowing in the wind as he disembarked the aircraft
Pope Francis is received by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi upon disembarking from his plane at Baghdad International Airport to start his historic tour in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
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Pope Francis is received by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi

In a video address before leaving the Vatican, the Pope said: “I have greatly desired to meet you, to see your faces and to visit your country, an ancient and outstanding cradle of civilization.

“I am coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism, to beg from God the consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds.”

In Mosul, which was liberated from the Islamic State by the Iraqi military in 2017, the Pope will hold a vigil in Hosh al Bieaa (Church Square) where he will pray for the victims of war.

He will then head east to the town of Qaraqosh for a Sunday service of prayer and remembrance at the Immaculate Conception Church.

The church was one particular focus for the Islamic State’s widespread barbarism.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi welcomes Pope Francis as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport to start his historic tour in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021, in this screen grab taken from video. Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
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Mr Al-Kadhimi, right, welcomed Pope Francis to the Middle Eastern country

IS followers used the church courtyard as a firing range. Furniture, statues, bibles and prayer books were also burnt in the courtyard and a black mark on the ground marks the spot where the desecration took place.

Before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, an estimated 1.5 million Christians lived in the country.

Today, only about 200,000 remain, the rest have been driven out by sectarian violence.

Reconciliation between Christians and Muslims is a key message and the Pope will hold inter-religious meetings on Saturday at Ur.

The archaeological site is thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of the three monotheistic faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Among the most symbolic moments will be a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the spiritual leader for millions of Shia Muslims and one of the world’s most influential Islamic scholars.

The two elderly men – the Pope is 84 and the Grand Ayatollah is 90 – will pray together in the holy city of Najaf. It is thought to be the first ever encounter between a pope and an Iraqi grand ayatollah.

The pontiff is visiting Baghdad during a fresh wave of coronavirus cases
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The pontiff is visiting Baghdad during a fresh wave of coronavirus cases
The pontiff will visit the holy city of Najaf in the south of the country
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The pontiff will visit the holy city of Najaf in the south of the country

The whole trip has been in jeopardy because of the dual threat of sectarian violence and the coronavirus pandemic.

Six weeks ago, two suicide bombers detonated bombs at a busy market in Baghdad killing at least 32 people. It was the first large-scale attack in the country for three years.

Followers of the Islamic State, who remain active in the country, are thought to have been responsible.

And this week, one person died after rockets hit a military base used by American forces west of Baghdad.

Militia aligned to Iran are likely to have been responsible – a retaliation for a US strike on Iranian militia targets along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to hit Iraq hard with the country experiencing a new wave of cases.

Data from Wednesday showed 5,173 new cases with a seven day average of 4,095 cases a day. At least 13,000 people are known to have died after contracting the virus.

The Pope will visit the city of Mosul which was the capital of the so-called Islamic State
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The Pope will visit the city of Mosul which was the capital of the so-called Islamic State

The Iraqi government has imposed new lockdowns and the Vatican’s own ambassador to Iraq, Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, announced on Sunday that he had contracted the virus.

But Vatican officials say the Pope has been determined that the trip should go ahead.

Francis has received a vaccine and the entourage of officials and journalists traveling with him have also been vaccinated.

Iraqi authorities say they are confident that the risks can be managed. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni described the visit as safe and socially distanced.

“All the precautions have been taken from a health point of view… The best way to interpret the journey is as an act of love; it’s a gesture of love from the Pope to the people of this land who need to receive it,” Mr Bruni told reporters before leaving Vatican City.

The Pope will hold a mass in a football stadium in the Iraqi-Kurdish city of Erbil on Sunday and concern remains about how spontaneous crowds can be prevented from gathering at all the events.

Iraq only received its first batch of vaccines four days ago, with 50,000 doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese government arriving on Monday.

The country has also agreements to receive vaccines in due course from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

The church in Qaraqosh was a focus for the Islamic State's widespread barbarism
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The church in Qaraqosh was a focus for the Islamic State’s widespread barbarism

Analysis: This is a poignant trip for Christian communities who have suffered so much

By Mark Stone, Middle East correspondent

“We are all brothers” – the motto for this rather extraordinary papal visit to Iraq.

The words, from Matthew’s gospel, represent the central message the Pope wishes to carry with him on a trip that is full of symbolism and solidarity but jeopardy too.

With sectarian violence a continued danger across Iraq and coronavirus cases again on the rise, it’s fair to wonder, why now?

Aside from the officials and journalists within the papal bubble, almost no one who encounters the Pope on this trip, or mixes with other faithful followers at his various events, will have received a vaccine.

And the separate headache for the papal security detail doesn’t bare thinking about.

Nevertheless the trip has gone ahead. Pope Francis was determined it would.

The only other time a Pope tried to visit Iraq (John Paul II in 2000), a diplomatic falling out between the Vatican and then-President Saddam Hussein put a stop to it.

“The people cannot be let down for a second time. Let us pray that this trip can be carried out well,” Pope Francis said as he prepared for the visit.

Inter-faith solidarity and fraternity is a key focus for this Pope at a time when polarisation between religions is increasing especially across the Middle East.

On Saturday, the 84-year-old pontiff will meet another elderly man – Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The 90-year-old Shia cleric is one of the world’s most influential Islamic scholars.

The pope will visit the Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh
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The pope will visit the Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh

Two years ago, Francis was in Cairo for interfaith prayers and talks with Sunni Islam’s leading clerics, the grand imam of Cairo’s al Azhar mosque, Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb.

The papal aspiration under Francis is a broad interfaith communion. He is being criticised for irresponsible timing but his people insist precautions for everyone are in place.

The trip strikes a particular poignancy for the Christian communities who suffered so much, so recently, at the hands of ISIS.

Other minorities suffered as well, of course – the Yazidis particularly, and Muslims too; anyone who didn’t buy into the Islamic State’s warped doctrine.

It’s remarkable that he will visit sites of such recent brutality. Remember the beheadings? The cages where people were burnt alive?

For communities of faith who lived through this, the visit will have real meaning.

Persecution of minority groups like Christians in Iraq didn’t begin with the Islamic State.

Over the past 20 years, the Christian population in Iraq has shrunk by 80% according to US State Department analysis.

An Iraqi census carried out in 1997 concluded that there were 1.4 million Christians in the country. Today there are less than 250,000.



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Newly found ‘super-Earth’ could hold key to finding alien life | World News

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A “super-Earth” located just 26 light years away could hold the key to finding extraterrestrial life.

At 430C (806F) and bathed in radiation, there is unlikely to be life nestled between the rivers of lava which are thought to burn across Gliese 486 b’s surface.

But – like Earth – the planet is made of rock and thought to have a metallic core.

The rough location of Gliese 486 b in the night sky. Pic: Renderarea/Reuters
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The rough location of Gliese 486 b in the night sky. Pic: Renderarea/Reuters

And what gases are present or absent in its atmosphere could help scientists when looking at other planets for signs of life in space.

“We say that Gliese 486 b will instantaneously become the Rosetta Stone of exoplanetology – at least for Earth-like planets,” said astrophysicist and study co-author Jose Caballero of Centro de Astrobiologia in Spain, referring to the ancient stone slab that helped experts decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The chemical composition of the atmosphere of Gliese 486 b could provide a contrast point for scientists to compare other planets to – any oxygen, carbon dioxide or methane would be notable, as those are present in our own life-supporting bubble.

“All that we learn with the atmosphere of Gliese 486 b and other Earth-like planets will be applied, within a few decades, to the detection of biomarkers or biosignatures: spectral features on the atmospheres of exoplanets that can only be ascribed to extraterrestrial life,” Caballero added.

A “super-Earth” is a planet heavier than our home planet, but smaller than the likes of Uranus and Neptune.

Gliese 486 b is thought to be about 2.8 times the mass of Earth – and 1.3 times the size.

Telescopes on and in orbit of Earth will be pointed at Gliese 486 b so more information about it can be gathered.

Gliese 486 b is in an ideal part of the sky to be studied, and is not too far away – just 26.3 light years (5.9 trillion miles) away.

More than 4,300 exoplanets – planets outside of our solar system – have been discovered.

Gliese 486 b gets drenched in radiation by its local star. Pic: Renderarea/Reuters
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Gliese 486 b gets drenched in radiation by its local star. Pic: Renderarea/Reuters

Planetary scientist Trifon Trifonov of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, is the lead author of the research published in the journal Science.

He said: “Gliese 486 b cannot be habitable, at least not the way we know it here on Earth.”

The planet orbits very closely to its red dwarf star, leaving it bathed in radiation. Its larger-than-Earth mass also means gravity on the planet will be about 70% greater than here.

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Beijing declares only ‘patriots’ should rule Hong Kong as elections delayed again | World News

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Beijing has declared that only “patriots” should rule Hong Kong – and unveiled plans to change the city’s electoral system to ensure just that.

Candidates for election to the Legislative Council – Hong Kong‘s parliament – will be vetted, according to the proposed changes. And elections scheduled for 2020, already postponed for a year, will be pushed back to 2022.

“The rioting and turbulence that occurred in the Hong Kong society reveals that the existing electoral system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has clear loopholes and deficiencies,” said Wang Chen, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, according to state media.

47 pro-democracy protesters were kept in custody earlier this week - despite 15 of them being granted bail. Pic: AP
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47 pro-democracy protesters were kept in custody earlier this week – despite 15 of them being granted bail. Pic: AP

The NPC, China‘s annual parliament, is meeting in Beijing this week. The changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system are only a proposal but will almost certainly be approved given the rubber stamp nature of the NPC.

“Loopholes” is one of Beijing’s favourite terms for describing aspects of Hong Kong’s governance it dislikes. Its sweeping national security law, announced at last year’s NPC, was described as fixing one loophole. Forty-seven people in Hong Kong are currently facing charges under the law.

The next loophole is Hong Kong’s quasi-democratic elections. Pro-democracy candidates won a landslide in the 2019 local elections in which three million people voted – an unprecedented turnout of 71% of registered voters.

That is clearly intolerable to the Chinese leadership. Candidates for election to the Legislative Council have previously been barred on an individual basis.

The new proposal will formalise the process and likely make it very hard for pro-democracy candidates to stand in elections – let alone win a majority.

What constitutes a “patriot” is left undefined. Chinese state media have been keen to make comparisons to other countries, painting it as a reasonable requirement for a legislator to love their country.

China's leader Xi Jinping gets applauded as he arrives at the National People's Congress in Beijing. Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam can be seen in the top right
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China’s leader Xi Jinping gets applauded as he arrives at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam can be seen in the top left

There is of course one big difference when it comes to loving one’s country in China.

In its constitution, China is defined as a socialist state whose key characteristic is the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Loving one’s country means loving the CCP.

Or, as Erick Tsang, a Hong Kong official, said last month: “You cannot say that you are patriotic but you do not love the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party or you do not respect it – this does not make sense.”

And Beijing, as it showed again today, tends to prefer tough love.

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