Phuket Gazette World News: Typhoon flattens Philippines; Mexico frees kidnap victims; US embroiled in Iran nuclear, Palestine dilemma

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

Typhoon Haiyan hammers Philippines
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the strongest storm ever to hit land, was barrelling out of the Philippines on Saturday after it flattened houses, triggered landslides and floods and knocked out power and communications across a number of islands.

In the central Philippines, nearly all houses in Tacloban in Leyte province with a population of about 220,000, were toppled and casualties were feared to be massive, a disaster official said.

“Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few houses are left standing, but with partial damages,” Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, told Reuters.

“Our disaster officials can’t give a number on casualties yet, the communication lines are down,” Balido said. “But I asked our teams to send us even a crude body count, they are just using a satellite phone and the signal is poor.”

Early official reports said at least four people had died, four others were missing and seven were injured by the typhoon.

Local radio reports said at least two more people had been killed on Cebu island, a popular tourist destination.

Haiyan, a Category-5 typhoon, had weakened after hitting land at least five times in the Philippines, but weather forecasters said it could strengthen again as it passes over the South China Sea before heading to Vietnam on Sunday.

The typhoon was hovering 440 kilometres west of San Jose, in southwestern Occidental Mindoro province, packing winds of a maximum 175 kph, with gusts of up to 210 kph.

The storm lashed the islands of Leyte and Samar with 275-kph wind gusts and 5-6 metre (15-19 ft) waves on Friday before scouring the northern tip of Cebu province.

It weakened slightly as it moved west northwest towards Capiz and Aklan provinces and near the tourist island of Boracay, later hitting Mindoro island.

About a million people took shelter in 37 provinces, after President Benigno Aquino appealed to people in the path of the typhoon to leave vulnerable areas, such as river banks, coastal villages and mountain slopes.

Teams from communications and power companies were trying to restore services, but authorities warned that may take days.

Ferry services and airports in the central Philippines remained closed. The military said it was deploying at least one C-130 cargo plane loaded with relief goods and emergency supplies to Tacloban city early on Saturday.

Haiyan was the second Category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year after Typhoon Usagi in September. An average of 20 typhoons strike the Philippines every year, and Haiyan was the 24th in 2013.

Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns on southern Mindanao region, killed 1,100 people and caused damage totalling more than $1 billion.

Mexico frees 61 kidnap victims held near U.S. border
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Mexican authorities freed 61 kidnapping victims in the northern border city of Reynosa, the government said on Friday, liberating a mix of foreign nationals that included at least nine minors and one American.

The raid, which took place on Thursday in four separate buildings in Reynosa, freed captives from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico and the United States, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said at a news conference in the capital.

He said the captives, many of whom had been trying to cross the border into the United States, had been held there for at least a week in “inhuman conditions,” although he did not go into details. Reynosa is across the border from McAllen, Texas.

The captives included children ages 2, 7 and 11, he added.

Authorities arrested four suspects, who could face sentences of up to 36 years if found guilty, Sanchez said.

Mexican criminal gangs have long been involved in trafficking migrants from Mexico and Central America north into the United States in a side business that complements their drug smuggling efforts.

Although the murder rate in Mexico has fallen somewhat, kidnapping has risen since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December vowing to stamp out such crimes.

A recent Pew Research Center report found that as of March 2012, 11.7 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States, according to a preliminary estimate based on U.S. government data.

The number of such immigrants in the country peaked at 12.2 million in 2007 and fell to 11.3 million in 2009, bucking an upward trend that had held for decades, the study found.

Immigration reform is one of U.S. President Barack Obama’s main objectives following his re-election last year. The White House hopes to push through a broad bill to reform immigration rules and provide a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, but the effort has stalled in the House of Representatives after passing with bipartisan support in the Senate.

Ministers arrive in Geneva as Iran nuclear deal nears
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday important gaps needed to be bridged in high-stakes talks with Iran on curbing its nuclear programme and he would meet Tehran’s foreign minister shortly to try to clinch an interim deal.

“I want to emphasise there is not an agreement at this point,” Kerry said shortly after arriving in Geneva, tempering rising anticipation of a breakthrough that would reduce the risk of a Middle East war over Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

“We hope to try to narrow these differences but I don’t think anybody should mistake there are some important gaps that have to be closed,” he told reporters.

Midway through the second round of negotiations since Iran elected a moderate president who opened doors to a peaceful solution to the nuclear dispute, Kerry joined fellow big power foreign ministers in Geneva to help cement a preliminary accord, with Israel warning they were making an epic mistake.

Diplomats said a breakthrough remained uncertain and would in any case mark only the first step in a long, complex process towards a permanent resolution of international concerns that Iran may be seeking the means to build nuclear bombs.

But they said the arrival of Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French and German foreign ministers Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle signalled that the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany may be closer to an elusive pact with Iran than ever before.

Kerry was expected to hold a trilateral meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

A senior U.S. State Department official said Kerry was committed to doing “anything he can” to overcome the chasm with the Islamic Republic. The powers aim to cap Iran’s nuclear work to prevent any advance towards a nuclear weapons capability.

The top U.S. diplomat arrived from Tel Aviv where he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regards Iran’s atomic aspirations as a menace to the Jewish state.

Netanyahu warned Kerry and his European counterparts that Iran would be getting “the deal of the century” if they carried ou

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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