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Phuket Gazette World News: Oklahoma search and rescue lowers toll to 24; Rafsanjani barred from Iran poll; Russia angry over ‘stolen’ Eurovision votes

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Phuket Gazette World News: Oklahoma search and rescue lowers toll to 24; Rafsanjani barred from Iran poll; Russia angry over ‘stolen’ Eurovision votes | The Thaiger

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

Oklahoma tornado survivor search continues, toll lowered to 24
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Rescuers went building to building in search of victims and thousands of survivors were homeless on Tuesday, a day after a massive tornado tore through a suburb of Oklahoma City, wiping out whole blocks of homes and killing at least 24 people.

Nine children were among the dead, including seven who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit in the deadliest tornado to strike the United States in two years.

Emergency workers pulled more than 100 survivors from the rubble of homes, schools and a hospital, and around 237 people were injured. Cadaver dogs sniffed through the scattered planks and bricks of ruined homes on Tuesday.

The 2-mile (3-km) wide tornado ripped through Moore on the outskirts of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, trapping victims beneath the rubble and tossing vehicles about as if they were toys. On block after block of residential neighbourhoods, there was nothing left but mangled debris.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said the death toll could rise. “There may have been bodies that may have been taken to local funeral homes,” Fallin said.

The National Guard, fire-fighters from more than a dozen fire departments and rescuers from other states worked all night under bright spotlights trying to find survivors in the town of 55,000 people.

Plaza Towers Elementary School was one of five schools in the path of the tornado. “They literally were lifting walls up and kids were coming out,” Oklahoma State Police Sergeant Jeremy Lewis said. “They pulled kids out from under cinder blocks without a scratch on them.”

The Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office said 24 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, down from the 51 they had reported earlier. The earlier number likely reflected some double-counted deaths, said Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer for the medical examiner.

“There was a lot of chaos,” she said.

Thunderstorms and lightning slowed the rescue effort on Tuesday and made conditions tough for families left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird vowed at a news conference to search through every damaged building “at least three times,” as authorities urged people to stay away from the area to allow rescue workers to complete the search.

As long as it takes

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster area in Oklahoma, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local efforts in Moore after the deadliest U.S. tornado since 161 people were killed in Joplin, Missouri, two years ago.

“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes,” Obama said at the White House.

Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore who was also mayor when a major tornado struck in 1999, said the whole town looked like a debris field and there was a danger of electrocution and fire from downed power lines and broken natural gas lines.

On Tuesday morning, a helicopter was circling overhead and thunder rumbled from a new storm as 35-year-old Moore resident Juan Dills and his family rummaged through the remains of what was once his mother’s home. The foundation was laid bare, the roof ripped away and only one wall was still standing. They found a few family photo albums, but little else.

“We are still in shock,” he said. “But we will come through. We’re from Oklahoma.”

National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center meteorologist Rick Smith said the storm was about 17 miles (23 km) long with maximum wind speeds of about 190 miles per hour (306 kph). On the Enhanced Fujita Scale it was ranked EF4, the second most powerful category of tornado.

Authorities warned the town 16 minutes before the tornado touched down just after 3 p.m., which is more than the average eight to 10 minutes of warning, said Keli Pirtle, a spokeswoman for the center.

The storm system threatened more twisters on Tuesday in several southern Plains states, especially northern and central Texas.

Shelters were opened for families who lost their homes and universities offered to house people. Albert Ashwood, director of Oklahoma’s department of emergency management, said it was too early to say how many people were left homeless, but clearly it was thousands given the extent of the damage.

Diana Tinnin, 60, was at home with her brother when the storm hit. Her three-bedroom, ranch-style home had no basement, so they huddled in a bathtub. “I lost my house. Everything fell on top of us.”

Five schools hit

U.S. Representative Tom Cole, who lives in Moore, said the Plaza Towers school was the most secure and structurally strong building in the area.

“And so people did the right thing, but if you’re in front of an F4 or an F5 there is no good thing to do if you’re above ground. It’s just tragic,” he said on MSNBC-TV.

Miguel Macias and his wife, Veronica, had two children at the Plaza Towers school and found 8-year-old Ruby first after rescue workers carried the girl from the destruction. But their son, 6-year-old Angel, was nowhere to be found, said Brenda Ramon, pastor of the Faith Latino Church where the family are members.

Ramon and several congregation members spent hours helping the family search for Angel and calling area hospitals. The boy was finally located at a medical center in Oklahoma City about five hours after the tornado hit.

“It was heart-breaking,” Ramon said. “We couldn’t find him for hours.” The boy had wounds to his face and head, but was not badly hurt, Ramon said. “Their little bodies are so resilient.”

Survivors of the storm suffered injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises to open wounds, impalements and open fractures, said Dr. Roxie M. Albrecht, the director of trauma and surgical critical care at the Oklahoma University Medical Center, which cared for 51 children and 35 adults.

Witnesses said Monday’s tornado appeared more fierce than the giant twister that was among the dozens that tore up the area on May 3, 1999, killing more than 40 people and destroying thousands of homes. That tornado ranked as an EF5 tornado with wind speeds of more than 200 mph (320 kph).

The 1999 tornado ranks as the third-costliest tornado in U.S. history, having caused more than $1 billion in damage at the time, or more than $1.3 billion in today’s dollars. Only the devastating Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornadoes in 2011 were more costly. (Graphic https://link.reuters.com/gec38t)

Authorities urged people who want to help to donate cash to the Red Cross and other reputable charities rather than sending goods.

Iran bars Rafsanjani from presidential election
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Iranian authorities barred two potentially powerful and disruptive candidates from running in next month’s presidential election on Tuesday, ensuring a contest largely among hardliners loyal to the clerical supreme leader.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a veteran companion of the Islamic Republic’s founder, a former president and thought potentially sympathetic to reform, was denied a place on the ballot by the Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, state media said.

So too was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a close aide to outgoing president Mahm

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

The stakes are high, the deliberations continue – Parliamentary Brexit vote

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The stakes are high, the deliberations continue – Parliamentary Brexit vote | The Thaiger

Call it Super Saturday, call it Deal or No Deal, call it the most important day in recent UK history. Today (Saturday) the UK House of Commons will gather on a Saturday, the first time for decades. Golf games have been postponed, polo sticks will have to gather dust and the cleaner’s been told to come back on Sunday.

Earlier this week, British PM Boris Johnson did the near impossible and secured a new Brexit deal from the EU. The EU shocked everyone by throwing out the controversial Irish border backstop and replacing it with an alternative plan, after months of saying that Theresa May’s deal could not be changed. Moreover, the EU leaders seem happy with the deal and have been waxing lyrical about the scruffy British PM they all dreaded negotiating with.

But it’s not going to be easy. Some PMs have already tabled amendments that could make Johnson’s run of success fall short of a finish line. Opposition MPs will put forward proposals to scrap Brexit or schedule a second referendum.

So how is the crucial, and historic vote, going to roll?

It’s far too close to call. PM Johnson doesn’t have a majority in Parliament and his Northern Irish allies, the DUP, who he needed to pass legislation, have already said that they won’t back the new plan. Meanwhile, his opposition MPs are lining up to criticise the deal. And there’s serious concern that the arch-Brexiteers in his own Conservative party will vote against the deal too.

Bottomline, if MPs don’t vote for this deal then they can’t be certain that Brexit will be delayed, despite the fact that Johnson is legally obliged to request a Brexit extension if no deal has been agreed by 11 pm on Saturday night. Last month, opposition MPs passed legislation that binds the British to this commitment. Mr. Johnson says he will comply with the law but reminds his opponents that this decision relies on the EU still having to unanimously agree to it.

But, if the deal passes, the UK finally leaves the EU. Johnson would probably hope to capitalise on his success and call for a general election soon after. His poll ratings are good at the moment, and you’d think they would improve after delivering Brexit.

If the deal goes down, Johnson requests the extension and it’s approved, then we get into the nasty election where both sides will tear each other apart, adding more to a polarised community that may take decades to recover from this folly.

And if the EU refuses an extension, then all hell breaks loose.

Has it all been worth it?

Anyway, bring on Super Saturday as the deliberations continue.

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World

Johnson tells MPs that there is ‘no better outcome’ than his Brexit plan

The Thaiger

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Johnson tells MPs that there is ‘no better outcome’ than his Brexit plan | The Thaiger

British PM Boris Johnson is warning British MPs there was “no better outcome” to the tortuous Brexit process than his divorce deal, as he scrambles to get MPs behind the agreement ahead of today’s knife-edge vote in parliament (Saturday UK time).

Johnson is urging lawmakers to back the “fantastic” terms he struck with EU leaders and let Britain leave the bloc on October 31.

“There’s no better outcome than the one I’m advocating tomorrow.”

“I want colleagues on all sides of the House to think about a world tomorrow night in which we’ve got this thing done,” he added in a separate interview with ITV.

“I think the nation will heave a great sigh of relief.”

Johnson pulled off a major coup in agreeing a new divorce deal at a Brussels summit on Thursday, only a fortnight before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. But the deal’s fortunes, and Britain’s immediate fate, rest in the hands of a few undecided MPs, who will vote in the first Saturday session of the Commons since the 1982 Falklands War.

Political pundits suggest the vote could be exceptionally tight. Johnson has no majority among MPs, every opposition party has come out against the deal and even his parliamentary ally, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), says it cannot support the terms.

Johnson requires the support of 319 other MPs to guarantee victory – and claims he is confident of getting the numbers, as he spent the day meeting and calling MPs.

He must convince diehard eurosceptics in his own Conservative ranks, former colleagues he expelled from the party for seeking to block a “no deal” departure, and main opposition Labour MPs from Brexit-backing constituencies to have any chance.

Labour is ordering its MPs to vote against the deal but threatening no punishment if they vote in favour. Several MPs spent yesterday wrestling with their consciences as the more than three years of turmoil since the June 2016 EU membership referendum came to a head.

Johnson is expected to deliver a speech to parliament from 0830 GMT on Saturday, kicking off a day of debate that could last well into the evening.

The turning of the screws

If the Commons rejects the deal, Johnson will be forced by law to ask the EU to delay Brexit, for what would be the third time. He has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch”.

French President Emmanuel Macron piled the pressure on MPs, saying he did not want a new delay now a deal was struck.

“The October 31 date should be respected. I don’t think that new deadlines should be given,” he said at the EU summit in Brussels.

“We need to end these negotiations and get on negotiating the future relationship.”

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel added: “There is no choice between Brexit or no Brexit: it’s a choice between deal or no deal.”

Johnson took office in July vowing to keep to the October 31 Brexit deadline, deal or no deal.

He pledged to renegotiate the most contentious elements of a divorce text agreed by his predecessor Theresa May with Brussels last year, which MPs rejected three times.

The compromise deal that was finally struck on Thursday has a new arrangement for keeping open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The DUP has said it cannot support the plans, as efforts to avoid checks on the Irish land border would lead to new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

Meanwhile…

Former Conservative prime minister John Major (1990-1997) and his Labour successor Tony Blair (1997-2007) pleaded with MPs to back a second referendum, ahead of a major rally by the “People’s Vote” campaign outside parliament on Saturday (UK time).

“Whatever is the outcome, no deal or bad deal, it should not pass without the final say resting with the people,” said Blair.

Major said Brexit was a “thoroughly bad idea” that risked breaking up the UK.

The Pound steadied around $1.29 yesterday as dealers took a breather at the end of a dizzying week.

ETX Capital analyst Michael Baker said the market was “really gambling” on the vote and had “not priced in fully all scenarios – so expect big moves”.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse | PHOTO: Associated Press

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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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