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Phuket Gazette World News: Iran quake near nuclear town; Texas stabbing spree; FBI probes KPMG

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Phuket Gazette World News: Iran quake near nuclear town; Texas stabbing spree; FBI probes KPMG | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Quake hits near Bushehr, Iran’s nuclear city, 37 dead
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: A powerful earthquake struck close to Iran’s only nuclear power station on Tuesday, killing 37 people and injuring 850 as it destroyed homes and devastated two small villages, Iranian media reported.

The 6.3 magnitude quake totally destroyed one village, a Red Crescent official told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), but the nearby Bushehr nuclear plant was undamaged, according to Iranian officials and the Russian company that built it.

“Due to the intensity of this earthquake, this tragedy has deepened and we have seen the destruction of many homes in the region, the deaths of 37 people and more than 850 injured,” the governor of Bushehr province, Fereydoun Hassanvand, told Mehr news agency.

Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud bricks, which have been known to crumble easily in quake-prone Iran. Some 700 homes were destroyed, Hassanvand said.

Across the Gulf, offices in Qatar and Bahrain were evacuated after the quake, whose epicentre was 89 km (55 miles) southeast of the port of Bushehr, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The early afternoon shock was also felt in financial hub Dubai.

The Russian company that built the nuclear power station, 18 km (11 miles) south of Bushehr, said the plant was unaffected.

“Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.

Iran informed the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that there was “no damage to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and no radioactive release from the installation”, an agency statement said.

One Bushehr resident said the quake shook her home and the homes of her neighbours but they were not damaged.

“We could clearly feel the earthquake,” Nikoo, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said. “The windows and chandeliers all shook.”

While initial fears about nuclear fallout receded, nearer the epicentre the rescue efforts ramped up into the night in search of survivors and to feed and house hundreds of residents who were traumatised by at least 16 aftershocks.

A Red Crescent official told ISNA that 20 people had been saved by rescue teams searching through the rubble.

Reports in Iranian media spoke of landslides destroying buildings and crowds gathering in the town of Dashti from outlying areas in search of help. Military officials said army and police units had been deployed to maintain order.

Water and electricity lines were severed and communities stayed in the streets because of the threat from aftershocks.

Iran’s most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered his condolences to the victims and urged authorities to extend all efforts to save lives and help the afflicted.

Tuesday’s quake was much smaller than the 9.0 magnitude one that hit Japan two years ago, triggering a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.

Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and made 160,000 Ukrainians homeless.

Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum.

Repeated warnings

Tehran has repeatedly rejected safety concerns about Bushehr – built in a highly seismic area – that began operations in September 2011 after decades of delays.

Iran sits on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which flattened the south-eastern city of Bam and killed more than 25,000 people. In August more than 300 people were killed when two quakes struck the northwest.

A report published last week by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said that “ominously” the Bushehr reactor sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates.

“Iran’s sole nuclear power plant is not at risk of a tsunami similar in size to the one that knocked out the electricity and emergency cooling systems at Fukushima. But, repeated warnings about the threat of earthquakes for the Bushehr nuclear plant appear to have fallen on deaf ears,” the report said.

The quake happened on National Nuclear Technology Day when Iran’s leaders celebrate the technological advances they say will reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, leaving more of its abundant oil for export.

Israel, Gulf Arab states and many Western countries fear Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and the Islamic Republic is under international sanctions aimed at forcing it to curb some of its atomic work.

Iran denies it wants nuclear arms and says its atomic work is for electricity generation and other peaceful uses.

South Korea increases surveillance as North moves missile
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: South Korea has raised its surveillance of North Korea after the reclusive state moved one or more long-range missiles in readiness for a possible launch, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific region, said the U.S. military believed North Korea had moved an unspecified number of Musudan missiles to its east coast.

An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters “our working assumption is that there are two missiles that they may be prepared to launch”. That was in line with South Korean media reports.

The North has been threatening the United States and its “puppet” South Korea on an almost daily basis in recent weeks, although the threats appear to be aimed partly at boosting internal support for young leader Kim Jong-un.

The Combined Forces Command in Seoul raised its “Watchcon 3” status, a normal defense condition, by one level in order to step up monitoring and increase the number of intelligence staff, a senior military official told Yonhap on Wednesday.

“There are clear signs that the North could simultaneously fire off Musudan, Scud and Nodong missiles,” Yonhap quoted an unidentified official as saying.

Pyongyang has frequently tested short-range Scud missiles but the longer-range Musudan and Nodong missiles are an unknown quantity. The Musudan missiles are reckoned to have a range of roughly 3,000-3,500 km (1,865-2,175 miles).

The North has said it would target American bases in the Pacific, although it is not known whether the untested missiles have the range to strike those bases.

“If the missile was in defense of the homeland, I would certainly recommend that action (of intercepting it). And if it was defense of our allies, I would recommend that action,” Locklear told a Senate hearing in Washington.

Pyongyang has turned up its shrill rhetoric in recent weeks after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions for the state’s third nuclear weapons test in February.

It has threatened a nuclear strike on the United States – something it does not have the capacity to carry out – and “war” with South Korea.

On Tuesday, it told foreigners in

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Economy

Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy

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Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy | The Thaiger

The British pound fell today as investors fret over PM Boris Johnson’s chances of pushing his Brexit deal through the British parliament, while Asian markets were mostly down after data showed China’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in nearly three decades.

The pound rallied almost to US$1.30 yesterday following news that negotiators had hammered out an agreement that would avoid Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal – a move many warn would be economically catastrophic. But the brief celebrations were soon tempered by the realisation that the British PM faces an uphill task in getting the deal past lawmakers, with opposition MPs and even some in his own Conservative party saying they won’t pass it.

Most importantly, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Johnson’s government, said it was “unable to support these proposals”.

Forex traders sold sterling, pushing it back down below $1.29, and it extended losses in Asia. Focus is now on a crucial vote in London on the deal scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday).

“Much will depend on the PM’s ability to get some if not all DUP and (Scottish National Party) MPs onside, in addition to also getting the backing from the 21 ex-Conservative MPs he expelled from the party last month,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“Rejection of the deal might well see more political brinkmanship around a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but the most likely scenario would be yet another extension of the 31 October Brexit date.”

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said whichever way the vote goes, “traders should prepare themselves for some severe volatility on Monday morning, with multiple big-figure moves a strong possibility”.

China growth slows again

Asian equity markets, meanwhile, were mostly lower after China said its economy expanded 6% in the third quarter, the slowest pace in 27 years, as leaders struggle to address weak domestic demand and the long-running US trade war.

The reading was a drop from the previous three months but in line with an AFP forecast and the government’s 6-6.5% target for the year.

While the National Bureau of Statistics said the economy “maintained overall stability”, it added that it “is under mounting downward pressure” from weakness at home and abroad.

Shanghai ended down 1.3% with Stephen Innes at AxiTrader saying traders were concerned the figures were not weak enough to prompt the Chinese central bank to embark on a big stimulus drive.

“With the People’s Bank of China, who arguably have plenty of policy ammunition to right the ship, probably unwilling to turn on the monetary taps, investors are taking risk off the table,” he said in a note.

Hong Kong was off 0.5% amid concern over the possibility of more violent protests over the weekend, while Sydney closed down 0.5 percent and Singapore eased 0.4%.

Seoul shed 0.8% and Wellington lost 0.7%, with Taipei and Manila also lower. But Tokyo closed 0.2 higher at a 10-month high, while Mumbai and Jakarta also edged up.

Hopes for the China-US trade talks were given a lift after Beijing’s commerce ministry said negotiators have “accelerated efforts” to hammer out details of last Friday’s mini-deal and were holding talks on moving on to the next phase of a wider agreement.

Donald Trump said Wednesday he hopes to sign the deal with President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Chile next month.

And the Turkish lira jumped more than 1% after Ankara said it would pause military operations in northern Syria for five days and US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington would not impose any fresh sanctions.

Key markets today…

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2857 from $1.2891 at 2050 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.48 pence from 86.31 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1122 from $1.1127

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.63 yen from 108.62 yen

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4% at 7,152.55

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.2% at 22,492.68 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5% at 26,719.58 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.3% at 2,938.14 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: UP four cents at $53.97 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 22 cents at $59.69 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1% at 27,025.88 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Philippines

Powerful 6.4 earthquake kills five in the Philippines

May Taylor

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Powerful 6.4 earthquake kills five in the Philippines | The Thaiger

PHOTO: AFP

A strong 6.4 magnitude earthquake has struck the southern Philippines, killing five, including one child, destroying property and disrupting power supply. The death toll is expected to rise.

The powerful quake was felt across the Mindanao region, even causing a 3-storey shopping mall to burst into flames. Residents were evacuated and a child was killed when a house collapsed in the town of Datu Paglas.

AFP reports that the quake was 14 kilometres deep and followed by two aftershocks. The Philippines is part of the “Ring of Fire”, a zone of constant seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific.

Several injuries have been reported as a result of falling debris. The shopping mall that caught fire was evacuated when the quake struck, but it’s not yet known if there were still people inside as the fire took hold.

The mall was still on fire three hours later as nearly 100 firemen battled to put it out.

Residents on the coast in Davao fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami, even though a government seismologist reassured people there was no tsunami risk as the quake had occurred inland.

It’s understood that prisoners in the municipal jail in the town of Bansalan were also let out, but placed in handcuffs and held outside for the duration of the evacuation.

SOURCE: AFP

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World

Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags

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Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags | The Thaiger

The British Pound tumbled again today after UK PM Boris Johnson’s key ally in parliament said it “could not support” his plans for a Brexit deal, throwing a spanner in the works – just as Britain and the EU were closing in on an agreement.

The comment caused an immediate reaction from this morning’s Asia Pacific markets.

After years of wrangling, the two sides said they were edging towards the basis for a treaty allowing Britain to avoid an economically catastrophic “no-deal” exit from the European Union.

With both teams working through the night, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said there had been “good progress, and work is ongoing”, while France’s deputy foreign minister said Thursday a deal was “within reach but is not guaranteed”.

There had been optimism that a deal was in the offing, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the bloc, as they worked towards a solution on the vexed question of British-ruled Northern Ireland.

But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dropped a bombshell hours before the start of a crunch EU summit Thursday, saying it cannot support the plan.

“As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity” on Value Added Tax, the DUP, which props up Johnson’s government, said in a statement on Twitter.

“We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster had met Johnson several times this week to discuss the progress of talks and had described as “nonsense” previous reports that she was ready to give way.

The pound, which earlier in the day was hovering at five-month highs around $1.2877 sank to $1.2750 before edging back slightly, while it also lost ground to the euro.

The DUP are against any deal that would tie Northern Ireland to EU rules but cut the rest of the United Kingdom loose.

Markets react

In early trade, London’s FTSE added 0.1%, Paris was flat and Frankfurt eased 0.2%. In Asia, most markets were in the red, with traders unable to take advantage of weak US retail data that raised the chances of another Federal Reserve interest rate cut. Comments in the Fed’s Beige Book update on the economy also pointed to a slowdown.

Hong Kong added 0.7% but Shanghai finished 0.1% lower and Tokyo lost 0.1%.

Sydney sank 0.8%, Singapore shed 0.7% and Seoul retreated 0.2%t, with Wellington and Manila also off. There were gains in Taipei, Mumbai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

Speculation about a possible US rate cut provided support to higher-yielding currencies against the dollar, with the Australian dollar 0.6 percent up and the South Korean won 0.1 percent stronger. The Thai baht, the Mexican peso and the South African rand also posted healthy gains.

Oil prices fell after data pointed to a sharp rise in US stockpiles that reinforced worries about the impact on demand from the China-US trade war and the global economic slowdown.

Key markets today

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2784 from $1.2817 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.65 pence from 86.33 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1081 from $1.1073

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.80 yen from 108.71 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,175.09

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1% at 22,451.86 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.7% at 26,848.49 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1% at 2,977.33 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 56 cents at $52.80 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 55 cents at $58.87 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.1% at 27,001.98 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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