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Turkey in mourning after 274 die in mine disaster

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Turkey in mourning after 274 die in mine disaster | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Furious Turks heckle Erdogan after at least 274 die in mine disaster
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Furious Turks heckled Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and jostled his entourage on Wednesday as protests erupted in several cities over a coal mine disaster in which at least 274 people died, making it the worst industrial accident in the nation’s history.

With rescuers still pulling bodies from the site in western Turkey, anger swept a country that has seen a decade of rapid economic growth but still suffers from one of the world’s worst workplace safety records.

Erdogan expressed his regret after visiting the site in Soma, about 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul, where around 100 miners are thought to be still trapped underground following Tuesday’s fire. “We as a nation of 77 million are experiencing a very great pain,” he told a news conference.

But he appeared to turn defensive when asked whether sufficient precautions had been in place. “Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” he said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.

Angry residents broke windows at the local government offices in Soma, some chanting “Erdogan resign”, while parts of the crowd lining the street booed as the prime minister walked through the town, jostling with members of his entourage.

Protesters later kicked Erdogan’s car as it left the area.

Opponents of Erdogan – who has already faced mass protests against his rule in the past year – have attacked his government for leasing mines to parts of the private sector cosy with the ruling party, and accuse it of ignoring repeated warnings about their safety.

In Istanbul, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse several thousand people, some wearing miners’ hard hats and headlamps. Police also clashed with demonstrators in the capital Ankara and there were protests in other cities.

Many took to social media to express their outrage at the government’s handling of the crisis. “Beyond ridiculous. Turkish PM cites 19th century Britain to prove mining accidents are ‘typical’,” one user wrote on Twitter.

MOURNERS WEEP

Fire knocked out power at the mine and shut down ventilation shafts and elevators on Tuesday afternoon. Emergency workers pumped oxygen into the mine to try to keep those trapped alive during a rescue effort that lasted through the night. Thousands of family members and co-workers gathered outside the town’s hospital searching for information on their loved ones.

“We haven’t heard anything from any of them, not among the injured, not among the list of dead,” said one elderly woman, Sengul, whose two nephews worked in the mine along with the sons of two of her neighbours.

“It’s what people do here, risking their lives for two cents … They say one gallery in the mine has not been reached, but it’s almost been a day,” she said.

A mechanical digger opened a row of fresh graves at Soma’s main cemetery. An imam presided over the funeral of six miners as a few hundred mourners wept in silence.

The fire broke out during a shift change, leading to uncertainty over the exact number of miners trapped. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the death toll as of 8.30 p.m. BST on Wednesday was 274, making it Turkey’s deadliest accident. Late on Tuesday he said 787 workers had been in the mine.

Yildiz warned that “hopes were dimming” of finding many more survivors.

Turkey’s safety record in coal mining has been poor for decades, with its previous worst accident in 1992, when a gas blast killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.

The mine operator Soma Komur Isletmeleri said nearly 450 miners had been rescued and that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide. It said the cause was not yet clear.

Initial reports suggested an electrical fault caused the blaze but Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers who was at the scene, said a disused coal seam had heated up, expelling carbon monoxide through the mine’s tunnels and galleries.

“They are ventilating the shafts but carbon monoxide kills in 3 or 5 minutes,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“Unless we have a major miracle, we shouldn’t expect anyone to emerge alive at this point,” he said, pointing to an outside chance that workers may have found air pockets to survive.


EXHAUSTED RESCUERS

The disaster highlighted Turkey’s poor record on worker safety and drew renewed opposition calls for an inquiry into a drop in safety standards at previously state-run mines. The International Labour Organization ranked the EU candidate nation third worst in the world for worker deaths in 2012.

Erdogan earlier declared three days of national mourning and cancelled an official visit to Albania. President Abdullah Gul also cancelled a trip to China scheduled for Thursday in order to travel to Soma.

A pall of smoke hung above the area of the mine and Yildiz said the fire was still burning underground, hampering the rescue operation, which was halted for several hours as the evening wore on to allow exhausted rescuers to recover.

Turkey’s disaster management agency AFAD said in an email 85 people had been treated for their injuries.

Freezer trucks and a cold storage warehouse usually used for food served as makeshift morgues as hospital facilities overflowed. Medical staff intermittently emerged from the hospital to read the names of survivors being treated inside, with families and fellow workers clamouring for information.

“This isn’t a huge city. Everyone has neighbours, relatives or friends injured, dead or still trapped. I am trying to prepare my family for the worst,” said Hasan Dogan, 27, watching TV news reports from a canteen set up outside the hospital.

Some 16,000 people from a population of 105,000 in the district of Soma work in the mining industry, according to Erkan Akcay, a local opposition politician. The district is no stranger to tragedies, but never before on this scale.

The words “For those who give a life for a handful of coal” are engraved on the entrance wall to the emergency clinic.

Teams of psychiatrists were being pulled together to counsel the families of victims. Paramilitary police guarded the entrance to the mine to keep distressed relatives at a safe distance, as residents offered soup, water and bread.

“They haven’t brought any ambulances in such a long time that we’ve started to lose hope,” said Hatice Ersoy, 43, a woman in a headscarf sitting on a pavement outside the hospital.

POOR RECORD

Turkey’s rapid growth over the past decade has seen a construction boom and a scramble to meet soaring energy demand, with worker safety standards often failing to keep pace. It is a net importer of coal.

The Labour Ministry said late on Tuesday its officials had carried out regular inspections at the Soma mine, most recently in March, and that no irregularities had been detected.

But Hursit Gunes, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said a previous request for a parliamentary inquiry into safety and working conditions at mines around Soma had been rejected by the ruling AK Party.

“I’m going to renew that parliamentary investigation demand today. If (the government) has been warned about this and they did nothing, then people will be angry, naturally. The

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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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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World

EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough

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EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough | The Thaiger

British and European negotiators headed back into intense negotiations on a draft Brexit deal after late-night talks brought them closer but so far fails to confirm an elusive breakthrough.

Reports that Britain has softened its stance on the customs status of Northern Ireland in order to clinch an accord at this week’s European summit had raised hopes that a chaotic “no-deal Brexit” can be avoided and is driving the pound higher.

But a marathon overnight negotiating session in the EU’s Brussels headquarters brought them to the eve of the meeting with still some distance to go to agree the wording of a treaty to govern the terms of Britain’s October 31 departure from the bloc.

“The teams worked into the night and continue to make progress. The teams will meet again this morning,” a UK official said, describing the talks as “constructive”. He and EU officials said the teams would get back to work at around 9am.

A senior European diplomat told AFP that the negotiators had begun to transcribe the British offer into a legal text that could eventually go before the 28 EU national leaders on Thursday at their European Council summit which begins on Thursday.

But there remain some important differences, he cautioned, while a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity as closed-door negotiations continue, played down hopes that any text would be finalised Wednesday.

Even if a text is prepared for the leaders this week – or if, as many observers in Brussels expect, an extraordinary summit is called later – any deal would have to be approved by a skeptical British parliament, which holds a special session on Saturday.

By agreeing to a form of customs boundary in the Irish Sea, Britain could allow its province of Northern Ireland to remain under EU rules, prevent a return to a hard land border with EU member Ireland and salvage a negotiated withdrawal.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may struggle to convince hardline Conservative eurosceptic MPS and his allies from Northern Ireland’s loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to accept this concession — less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Nevertheless, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay judged that a deal was close enough to justify officials working into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Barnier had said a text must be on the table by Wednesday if member state governments are to have a chance to consider it before the summit, because the 28 national leaders have no plans to themselves debate the details of the agreement.

But if, as now seems likely, the Wednesday deadline is missed, officials said talks could instead resume next week and a special summit be called just in time for Johnson to fulfil his pledge to lead Britain out of the bloc on October 31.

European leaders warn they will not let Britain use Northern Ireland as a back door to the single market and Barnier said Tuesday that “it is high time to turn good intentions into legal text.”

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined why EU officials are driving a hard bargain and hoping Britain will commit to a “level playing field” in post-Brexit trade and commerce.

“One thing is clear, Britain will develop into another competitor on the doorstep of Europe. And therefore the EU will be challenged to become more competitive and to assume geopolitical responsibility.”

Glimmers of hope

“The last moment is always a bit later than you think,” one German government official told AFP, suggesting Brexit would have to be postponed beyond the end of the month if talks are to reach a successful conclusion.

More than three years after Britain’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European bloc, talks remain stuck on how to avoid customs checks on the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The EU has reservations about London’s proposed customs arrangements and the role for Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly in giving consent to the plans.

In London, DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC that she wanted to support a deal, but would not do so if she felt it divided Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and added that without her party’s support “everybody knows” it would not pass in parliament.

If no deal is reached by Saturday, Johnson will fall foul of a British law demanding he ask the EU to postpone Brexit for a third time rather than risk a potentially disastrous “no deal” departure.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Myanmar

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar

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Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Burmese surfer Thwe Thwe Soe practicing off the coast of Ngwe Saung – Myanmore

Paddling hard and smiling, Thwe Thwe Soe flung herself up on the board just as a wave was breaking, spreading her arms out for balance before getting knocked off.

“I can’t live without surfing. I did not expect to be chosen for the national team but I’m thrilled at the opportunity.”

Thwe Thwe Soe was speaking after a day in the blue waters off the small coastal resort town of Ngwe Saung. Competitive surfing was barely known in Myanmar a few years ago but one local beach town is riding a wave of enthusiasm to the Southeast Asia Games for the first time ever.

The Southeast Asian country is flanked by surf-ready coasts to the west and south, but decades of military rule, lack of equipment and poverty kept aspiring athletes from testing the waters. The 25 year old encountered the sport while studying in southern California and has been hooked since, saying she “always feels happy” on the water.

Now she is going up against the region’s giants at the December games in the Philippines. Thwe Thwe Soe has one of the best chances to medal among the handful of surfers going, but all are training hard.

“We surf for at least four to six hours a day,” said American coach Robert Brickell, a 26 year old originally from New York.

The mild waves at Ngwe Saung present a paradox for competitive surfers – they are good to learn on but much tamer than the conditions in surfing hotspots. The team went to Bali in Indonesia for two months to get used to some “big wave surfing” and have made enormous strides in a short amount of time, Brickell said.

“My hope is that we can show everybody that people from Myanmar, we know how to surf, we know how to respect the ocean. And of course our hope is to win some meets.”

The Surf Association of Myanmar was established only this year. The sport is slowly gaining prominence thanks to the impassioned surfers, most from a village near the beach and newcomers themselves. Ngwe Saung is the heartland of the growing craze and has now hosted several competitions.

“We hadn’t heard of surfing before 2017. It will be a difficult competition but we will do our best for sure.” said 19 year old Aung Min Naing.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Aspiring new Burmese surfer, Aung Min Naing – MMTimes.com

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

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