4 dead, dozens injured in Taiwan earthquake

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 3rd April 2024

Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years has killed four and injured at least 50, causing building collapses, power outages and landslides on the island, and sparking initial tsunami warnings in southern Japan and the Philippines. The quake, given a magnitude of 7.7 by Japan’s meteorological agency, struck close to the city of Hualien, on Taiwan’s eastern coast, damaging buildings and trapping people amid aftershocks. Videos on social media showed children being rescued from collapsed residential buildings. One five-storey building in Hualien appeared heavily damaged, its first floor collapsed and the bulk of the building leaning at a 45-degree angle. The epicentre of the earthquake was recorded in the municipality of Xiulin, in Hualien county.

Taiwan’s Centre for Science and Technology (CST) said people and vehicles were trapped in the Dachingshui tunnel. Train lines were also damaged, and schools and workplaces were closed across large areas of the city. Witnesses in Hualien described driving while rocks dislodged from nearby mountains fell down around them, while others rushed outside after feeling the strength of the tremors.

Further north, part of the headland of Guishan Island, a popular tourist hotspot also known as Turtle Island, slid into the sea. In the capital, Taipei, several people were rescued from a partially-collapsed warehouse, and tiles fell from buildings. Although it was measured at 7.7 in Japan, Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude of Wednesday’s quake as 7.2, making it Taiwan’s strongest since 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude quake 150 km south of Taipei killed 2,400 and injured 10,000.

Meeting today to set 2024-2029 EU priorities

The president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, will host a working meeting dedicated to the preparation of the future Strategic Agenda of the European Union later today at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest, together with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel and Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković will also attend. The consultations are part of a broader process of defining the priorities of the European Union for the period 2024-2029, initiated on the occasion of the informal meeting of the European Council in Granada, on 6th October 2023. Back then, the EU member states highlighted the interest in placing security and defence, global involvement, and the expansion of the Union, as well as strengthening the resilience and competitiveness of the Union, at the forefront of the European agenda.

“Based on the coordinates established in Granada, the discussions within the meeting at the Cotroceni Palace will represent an opportunity to delve deeper into these elements and to analyse the lines of action at the level of the European Union towards achieving the common objectives of strengthening the Union’s international profile, ensuring prosperity, and promoting and protecting democracy and European values,” the presidential office srarement says. The discussions on preparing the Strategic Agenda for the next institutional cycle will continue at the level of EU leaders, with the goal of being adopted by the European Council at the meeting scheduled for the end of June this year.

Israel seeking to “fuel” conflict with Syria strikes – Russia

Russia accused Israel yesterday of seeking to fuel conflict in the Middle East, blaming it for a strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria that killed at least 13 people. Slamming the “flagrant violation” of Syria’s sovereignty, Moscow’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzia told a Security Council meeting that Russia was “of the view that such aggressive actions by Israel are designed to further fuel the conflict. They are absolutely unacceptable and must stop”. Tehran has vowed to retaliate for the strike on Monday, which killed more than a dozen people, including senior members of the Revolutionary Guards, while Israel has so far declined to comment. Algeria’s UN ambassador Amar Bendjama told the meeting, “the aim of such an act – “a deliberate act” – is obvious: responding to international pressures by escalating the conflict, which prolong the killing of Palestinians for internal, political calculation”. He said Israel wants to “draw the entire region into conflict.” Most members of the council condemned the attack as a violation of the inviolability of diplomatic property but without mentioning Israel.

Protests against Netanyahu for fourth night

The families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas on Tuesday blasted their country’s leader as a “traitor” as anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war grew in the fourth consecutive night of mass protests. Thousands gathered in front of the country’s parliament, with hostage families and former prime minister Ehud Barak blaming Netanyahu for the October 7 “disaster” and demanding an election. “You are a pharaoh, a slayer of firstborns – 240 were kidnapped on your watch – it’s your fault,” declared Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is one of the 134 still being held in Gaza by the Islamist militants. “You failed on October 7 in every possible way,” she declared, and now “you are an obstacle to a hostage deal”.

Hostage families are furious at Netanyahu, whom they say has not really pushed to have them freed. At Tuesday’s rally in front of parliament, some of the families accused Israel’s longest-serving leader of trying to use the war to prolong his hold on power. Former premier Barak said if Netanyahu launched a ground offensive on Rafah, the “hostages will return in coffins. The one who abandoned them on October 7 is now sacrificing them on the altar of absolute victory”. Some 3,000 of the protesters later marched to Netanyahu’s home to shout slogans demanding he resign, with police saying some “rioters” tried to rip away barriers outside. Mounted officers charged into the crowd to stop them from breaking through.

Netanyahu admits Gaza strike “unintentionally” killed seven aid workers

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu admitted on Tuesday that Israel’s military had “unintentionally” killed seven aid workers with a US charity in an air strike in Gaza. World Central Kitchen had earlier said a “targeted attack” by Israeli forces on Monday had killed the group, which included Australian, British, Palestinian, Polish and US-Canadian employees. Britain summoned the Israeli ambassador to London to hear its “unequivocal condemnation” of the strike, with three of those killed British, and demanded “full accountability”.

Netanyahu said it was a “tragic case” that would be investigated “right to the end”, stopping short of apologising for the deaths. But President Isaac Herzog took that step, telling WCK founder Jose Andres of his “deep sorrow and sincere apologies over the tragic loss of life”. The Israeli military said it was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident”. There was widespread condemnation of the attack, with the UN slamming Israel’s “disregard” for humanitarian law. UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths expressed “outrage” over the deaths, describing the aid workers as “heroes killed while trying to feed starving people”. And Poland demanded compensation for the families of the seven aid workers, one of whom is Polish.

US President Joe Biden also told Andres, a Spanish-American celebrity chef, that “he’s heartbroken” and insisted aid workers be protected. The White House added it was “outraged”, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington urged “a swift, thorough and impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened”.

AFPTV footage showed the roof of a vehicle emblazoned with the group’s logo had been punctured, alongside the mangled wreck of other vehicles. US-based WCK had been working to unload food brought to Gaza by sea from Cyprus. Cyprus said on Tuesday that the ship, the Jennifer, was returning to the Mediterranean island with around 240 tons of aid that had not been unloaded.

UN chief calls aid worker deaths in Gaza “unconscionable

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday called the deaths of seven aid workers in an Israeli air strike in Gaza “unconscionable” and said it highlighted the need for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The incident brings “the number of aid workers killed in this conflict to 196 – including more than 175 members of our own UN staff,” Guterres said in a speech to the UN General Assembly. “This is unconscionable – but it is an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted,” he said. “It demonstrates yet again the urgent need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the expansion of humanitarian aid into Gaza, as the Security Council demanded in its resolution.” Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire—thanks to an abstention from the United States, Israel’s closest ally. The measure sparked ire from Netanyahu’s government. “The resolution must be implemented without delay,” Guterres said. Earlier, Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the deaths had highlighted a “disregard for international humanitarian law and a disregard for the protection of humanitarian workers.”

Ukraine’s war victims to claim compensation

Ministers and officials from dozens of countries gathered in the Netherlands on Tuesday for a conference on restoring justice in Ukraine, as the war sparked by Russia’s invasion drags on in its third devastating year. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed the ‘Restoring Justice for Ukraine’ conference in the Hague on Tuesday, telling delegates the people of Ukraine ‘‘want to see justice delivered’’. A register for Ukrainians to seek compensation for damage to their homes as a result of Russia’s invasion received more than 100 claims on its first day of opening. “It’s a sign of how high the demand is, but it’s also a sign of how thirsty people are for justice,” Kuleba said. The applications filed Tuesday are the tip of the iceberg. The Council of Europe expects between 300,000 and 600,000 claims. The Hague-based Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, also known as RD4U, aims to allow further claims soon, including those related to damage or destruction of Ukrainian critical infrastructure. The register will not pay out any claims, but it is a stepping stone toward an international compensation mechanism that is yet to be established.

NATO mulls $164 billion military fund for Ukraine

NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels today to discuss how to put military support for Ukraine on a long-term footing, including a proposal for a 100 billion euro five-year fund and a plan seen as a way to “Trump-proof” aid for Kyiv. Reuters quotes diplomats saying the proposals by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg would give the Western alliance a more direct role in coordinating the supply of arms, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion. The plans will be discussed during a two-day meeting in Brussels that will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and prepare for a summit of alliance leaders in Washington in July. The meeting will provide insight into how far Ukraine’s European allies are willing to go to support Kyiv’s war effort as a military aid package for Ukraine worth some $60 billion remains stalled in the US Congress.

Trump finds new way to attack judge’s daughter despite gag order

Donald Trump has found a work-around for a newly-expanded gag order that bars him from attacking the Democratic campaign-consultant daughter of his hush-money judge: attacking the daughter through legal filings instead. Trump himself has refrained from attacking Loren Merchan, daughter of New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, at least since the judge expanded the gag order on Monday night. But by Tuesday night, Trump’s lawyers took up the attack. In a new filing, they demanded that the judge recuse himself from the case, which is scheduled to begin jury selection in Manhattan on April 15. Their proposed reason for recusal was that Loren Merchan’s work on behalf of such A-list Democrats as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris created a conflict of interest for her father the judge. The daughter, through her left-leaning political consultancy, ‘Authentic Campaigns’, is “making money” off Trump’s legal travails – and her father the judge, they argued, is somehow complicit.

29 killed as fire tears through Istanbul apartment block

A fire that raged from the basement of a 16-storey building in central Istanbul killed at least 29 people yesterday, with flames and thick smoke billowing for hours despite a massive emergency response. The fire was contained and rescue efforts had ended by early evening, the city governor’s office said, and eight people were arrested over the blaze that began in a basement where builders had been renovating a nightclub. The local mayor’s office said in a statement that it had received “no request for authorisation” from the owners of the nightclub or the contractor “regarding any possible renovation of the premises”.

Storms cause damage across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee

A surge of destructive storms lashed multiple US states causing damage across the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys on Tuesday, with various tornado watches impacting millions and severe weather warnings spreading over a much wider slice of the country, from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. CBS News reports violent wind gusts and heavy rain had already caused serious damage to some areas by mid-afternoon, wrecking buildings and forcing highway closures as crews worked to clear downed power lines, trees and other debris. Large sections of Ohio and Kentucky were contending with the most serious risks, along with a stretch of far-eastern Indiana. The Storm Prediction Centre’s most recent severe weather outlook ranked threats in parts of those states at Level 4, of five levels, which corresponds with “moderate” on that scale. Much of Kentucky and southern Ohio received that warning, including major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Lexington and Louisville. A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of central Kentucky and Tennessee, including Nashville and its surrounding areas. They were set to expire in the afternoon, although meteorologists warned that powerful “and potentially long-track tornadoes are possible from Indiana and Ohio southward into the Mid South” through the evening.

Endangered monkey stolen from Leipzig Zoo

The Leipzig Zoo in eastern Germany said Tuesday that one of its monkeys had been stolen from its enclosure. Employees at the zoo discovered that the lion-tailed macaque was missing on Easter Sunday while inspecting the primate enclosures. The zoo determined that there were “clear signs of a violent break-in” from unidentified individuals and believed that traps were used to steal the animal. The female macaque, Ruma, is 15 years old. Lion-tailed macaques are considered an endangered species. They are known for the tip of their tails, which is “tufted” like that of a lion. Another 12-year-old male macaque living in the same enclosure was still there and seemed unharmed by the break-in. However, a zoo spokesperson told the German Bild newspaper that the male macaque, Yenur, misses his partner as the monkeys have a social disposition. The lion-tailed macaque uses 17 different vocal calls and body language to convey messages.

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