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UN calls Syria ‘prolific slaughterhouse’ as it calls for ceasefire

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The United Nations has called Syria and other war-torn nations “prolific slaughterhouses” as it appealed for an immediate ceasefire in the country.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it is “high time to stop this hell on Earth” in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region, where hundreds of civilians have died over the past month.

He appealed on all sides to abide by a 30-day nationwide ceasefire, which the 15-member Security Council unanimously voted on over the weekend.

The council came to an agreement after days of Russia – Syria’s key military ally in the civil war – refusing to agree unless the ceasefire excluded fighters from IS and the al Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

Mr Guterres said he welcomed the resolution but it is “only meaningful…if effectively implemented”.

“That is why I expect the resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained,” he told the opening of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.


Baby girl pulled from under rubble after strikes on eastern Douma



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Baby girl pulled from Syria rubble

Meanwhile, another top UN official criticised the lack of action in conflicts around the world, including Syria.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief, said: “Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria, Ituri and the Kasais in the (Democratic Republic of Congo), Taiz in Yemen, Burundi, Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors.”

He said Security Council members who had vetoed action bore “responsibility for the continuation of so much pain.”

“It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States end the pernicious use of that veto,” he told the rights council.



A teenager screams for his father in this video and rescuers help people climb out of the rubble of a building, where a fire is actively burning. The Syrian Civil Defense said this video was filmed in Saqba.



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Civilians saved from burning rubble

“We have every reason to remain cautious,” he added.

“The resolution must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence, seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.”

The European Union’s diplomatic chief, Federica Mogherini, also demanded the ceasefire be implemented “immediately” and “without delay” as she arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Their remarks came as the Syrian government kept up its bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, on Monday, killing at least 10 civilians, including nine members of the same family, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.

Opposition activists claimed it was a chlorine gas attack, saying a three-year-old had died of asphyxiation.

:: The complex who’s who of Syrian civil war

Members of the Security Council vote during a meeting on a ceasefire in Syria
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Members of the Security Council vote during a meeting on a ceasefire in Syria

The Syrian American Medical Society said 16 patients in its hospital had symptoms indicating they were exposed to chemical compounds.

Assad’s regime has continually denied using chemical weapons but has been accused of carrying out several chlorine gas attacks in recent weeks, including a further two in January in eastern Ghouta.

Since 18 February more than 500 civilians have been killed in bombings by the Assad regime and its Russian allies on the enclave east of Damascus, the monitoring group said.

The area, home to 400,000 people, is controlled by Islamist and jihadist fighters as well as rebel fighters.

It is the last major area near the Syrian capital which remains under rebel control.

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COVID-19: Holidays to Spain could be delayed ‘until end of summer’ | World News

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Britons hoping to escape to Spain could have their holiday plans cancelled following reports the Spanish prime minister said the country would not welcome international tourists until the “end of summer”.

Speaking at a meeting of the World Tourism Organisation, Pedro Sanchez reportedly said he did not expect holidaymakers to visit Spain until nearly all of the population has been vaccinated.

He said the country would “progressively” prepare to welcome international tourists once 70% of Spain’s population had been vaccinated, which he expected to be by the end of this summer, local media sites including Euro Weekly News have reported.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reportedly said 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated
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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reportedly said 70% of the population would need to be vaccinated

It will be a blow for the tourism sector, which closed its worst year since the 1970s in 2020 with revenues falling by more than 75%.

Spain reported its highest daily number of coronavirus infections yet on Thursday, recording 44,357 cases.

A further 404 deaths were also reported, taking the country’s total to 55,041 deaths and 2.5 million cases.

Spain is not the only popular holiday destination closing its doors to British tourists, as Portugal has said it will be suspending all flights to and from Britain from Saturday onwards.

Only repatriation flights will be allowed between the two countries, Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference.

British tourists arrive at Gran Canaria airport
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Spain is one of the most popular destinations for British tourists

Meanwhile, the UK itself has “considered” a full closure of its borders.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News ministers were keeping the idea “under review” and “can’t rule anything out for now” – although they believed the current restrictions were “sufficient”.

Asked whether people should be booking foreign holidays for this summer, Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to give an answer and said it was “far too early” to speculate on restrictions.

But some Britons have already begun booking their breaks, with holiday firms saying they had seen a spike in bookings from older people planning trips following the vaccine roll-out.

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‘We need to have a spring and summer season’

The UK’s largest tour operator TUI said half of bookings made so far have been made by over-50s.

Spain ranks among the most popular countries for people planning holidays this year.

A study by travel company Club Med showed it was the fifth most popular destination, behind the Maldives, Mexico, Thailand and Turkey.

Earlier, European Union leaders held an online summit to discuss potential coronavirus measures, including further border restrictions.

While a number of EU leaders said they would not rule out border closures, Spain and Greece backed an idea for a common approach to “vaccine passports”.

The system would allow people to travel if they had received the vaccine, although EU diplomats said the measure was premature as it is not yet clear if vaccinated people could still pass on the virus to others.

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China gold mine blast: Trapped workers must wait another two weeks for rescue | World News

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Rescuers trying to free a group of miners trapped hundreds of metres underground have said it may take another 15 days to drill and clear a route wide enough to reach them.

They are desperately trying to bring the workers back to the surface following an explosion at the Hushan gold mine in Qixia, Shandong province, in eastern China on 10 January.

A total of 22 miners became trapped after the blast blocked the mine entrance.

Medical workers in white protective suits are also on site
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Medical workers in white protective suits are also on site as part of coronavirus measures

One is confirmed to have died from head injuries. Eleven are known to be alive and rescuers have made contact with 10 of them, while one is said to be in a nearby chamber. The remaining 10 are missing.

Holes have been drilled and used to pass food, medicine and other supplies to the group while they wait.

Rescuers are now drilling a new wider shaft to reach the 10 men in the middle section of the mine – more than 600m from the entrance – which they hope to use to bring the survivors to safety.

The mine shaft is blocked 350m below the surface by 70 tonnes of debris that extends down another 100m, the Yantai city government said in a statement on its social media account.

Other shafts are being drilled for communication and ventilation – to expel deadly fumes.

Rescuers work at the Hushan gold mine in Qixia, Shandong province, China, where a group of miners remain trapped underground
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Rescuers say it may take another 15 days to reach the group of miners who remain trapped hundreds of metres underground

About 600 people are involved in the rescue, with as many as 25 ambulances waiting at the scene, as well as neurosurgeons, trauma specialists and psychologists.

Medical workers in white protective suits are also on site and have been taking people’s temperatures as part of COVID-19 precautions.

Mine managers have been detained for waiting more than 24 hours before reporting the incident, the cause of which is still not known.

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Google threatens to block search engine in Australia if forced to pay for news | Science & Tech News

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Google has threatened to block its search engine in Australia if it is forced to pay media outlets for their news content.

Both Google and social media giant Facebook – which also opposes the rules and has threatened to remove news from its feed for Australian users – are fighting government plans for a new digital news code.

It would make tech giants negotiate payments with local publishers and broadcasters, and a government-appointed arbitrator would decide the price if they fail to strike a deal.

Facebook
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Facebook also opposes the new digital news code in Australia

“Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Mel Silva, the company’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, told a Senate inquiry into the bill.

“And that would be a bad outcome not only for us, but also for the Australian people, media diversity, and the small businesses who use our products every day.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison immediately hit back, saying “we don’t respond to threats”.

Ms Silva said the company was willing to pay a wide and diverse group of news publishers for the value they added, but not under the rules currently proposed, which includes payments for links and snippets.

She suggested a series of tweaks to the bill, adding: “We feel there is a workable path forward.”

Simon Milner, a Facebook vice president, said the sheer volume of deals it would have to strike would be unworkable.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed Google’s threat

Google dominates internet searches in Australia, with Ms Silva telling senators about 95% are done through the company.

Mr Morrison told reporters in Brisbane: “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia.

“That’s done in our parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”

He added: “People who want to work with that in Australia, you’re very welcome. But we don’t respond to threats.”

Australia announced the legislation last month after an investigation found Google and Facebook held too much market power in the media industry, a situation it said posed a potential threat to a well-functioning democracy.

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Facebook and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are among the most prominent American technology companies.

The US government this week asked Australia to scrap the proposed laws, and suggested it should pursue a voluntary code instead.

But The Australia Institute, an independent think tank, said politicians should stand firm against the tech giants.

“Google’s testimony today is part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy,” said Peter Lewis, the director of the institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

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