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World News: Mali war spills into Algeria; Many hostages taken

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World News: Mali war spills into Algeria; Many hostages taken | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Sahara hostage siege turns Mali war global
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Islamist fighters have opened an international front in Mali’s civil war by taking dozens of Western hostages at a gas plant in the Algerian desert just as French troops launched an offensive against rebels in neighbouring Mali.

Nearly 24 hours after gunmen stormed the natural gas pumping site and workers’ housing before dawn yesterday, little was certain beyond a claim by a group calling itself the “Battalion of Blood” that it was holding 41 foreign nationals, including Americans, Japanese and Europeans, at Tigantourine, deep in the Sahara.

Algerian media said a Briton and an Algerian were killed in the assault. Another local report said a Frenchman had died.

One thing is clear: as a headline-grabbing counterpunch to this week’s French build-up in Mali, it presents French President Francois Hollande with a daunting dilemma and spreads fallout from Mali’s war against loosely allied bands of al Qaeda-inspired rebels far beyond Africa, challenging Washington and Europe.

A French businessman with employees at the site said the foreigners were bound and under tight guard, while local staff, numbering 150 or more, was held apart and had more freedom.

Led by an Algerian veteran of guerrilla wars in Afghanistan, the group demanded France halt its week-old intervention in Mali, an operation endorsed by Western and African allies who fear that al Qaeda, flush with men and arms from the defeated forces of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, is building a haven in the desert.

Hollande, who won wide praise for ordering air strikes and sending troops to the former French colony, said little in response. In office for only eight months, he has warned of a long, hard struggle in Mali and now faces a risk of attacks on more French and other Western targets in Africa and beyond.

The Algerian government ruled out negotiating and the United States and other Western governments condemned what they called a terrorist attack on a facility, now shut down, that produces 10 percent of Algeria’s gas, much of which is pumped to Europe.

The militants, communicating through established contacts with media in neighbouring Mauritania, said they had dozens of men at the base, near the town of In Amenas close to the Libyan border, and that they were armed with mortars and anti-aircraft missiles.

They said they had repelled a raid by Algerian forces after dark yesterday. There was no government comment on that. Algerian officials said earlier about 20 gunmen were involved.

Lives at risk
The militants issued no explicit threat but made clear the hostages’ lives were at risk: “We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali,” read one statement carried by Mauritanian media.

The group also said its fighters had rigged explosives around the site and any attempt to free the hostages would lead to a “tragic end”. The large numbers of gunmen and hostages involved pose serious problems for any rescue operation.

Smaller hostage-taking incidents have been common in the Sahara and financial gain plays a part in the actions of groups whose members mingle extremist religious aims with traditional smuggling and other pursuits in the lawless, borderless region.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the raid was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and recently set up his own group in the Sahara after falling out with other local al Qaeda leaders.

A holy warrior-cum-smuggler dubbed “The Uncatchable” by French intelligence and “Mister Marlboro” by some locals for his illicit cigarette-running business, Belmokhtar’s links to those who seized towns across northern Mali last year are unclear.

French media said the militants were also demanding that Algeria, whose government fought a bloody war against Islamists in the 1990s, release dozens of prisoners from its jails.

Americans
The militants said seven Americans were among the 41 foreign hostages – a figure U.S. officials said they could not confirm.

Norwegian energy company Statoil, which operates the gas field in a joint venture with Britain’s BP and the Algerian state company Sonatrach, said nine of its Norwegian employees and three of its Algerian staff were being held.

Also reported kidnapped, according to various sources, were five Japanese working for the engineering firm JGC Corp, a French national, an Austrian, an Irishman and a number of Britons.

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said, “I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation.”

He said he lacked firm information on whether there were links to the situation in Mali. Analysts pointed to shifting alliances and rivalries among Islamists in the region to suggest the hostage-takers may have a range of motives.

In their own statements, they condemned Algeria’s secularist government for “betraying” its predecessors in the bloody anti-colonial war against French rule half a century ago by letting French warplanes fly over its territory to Mali. They also accused Algeria of shutting its border to Malian refugees.

Panetta said Washington was still studying legal and other issues before providing more help to France in the war in Mali.

Hollande has called for international support against rebels who France says pose a threat to Africa and the West, and admits it faces a long struggle against well-equipped fighters who seized Timbuktu and other oasis towns in northern Mali and have imposed Islamic law, including public amputations and beheading.

Islamists have warned Hollande that he has “opened the gates of hell” for all French citizens.

Some of those held at the facility, about 1,300 km (800 miles) inland, had sporadic contact with the outside world.

The head of a French catering company said he had information from a manager who supervises some 150 Algerian employees at the site. Regis Arnoux of CIS Catering told BFM television the local staff was being prevented from leaving but was otherwise free to move around inside and keep on working.

“The Westerners are kept in a separate wing of the base,” Arnoux said. “They are tied up and are being filmed. Electricity is cut off, and mobile phones have no charge.

“Direct action seems very difficult. … Algerian officials have told the French authorities as well as BP that they have the situation under control and do not need their assistance.”

Mali offensive
French army chief Edouard Guillaud said ground forces were stepping up their operation to engage directly “within hours” the alliance of Islamist fighters, grouping al Qaeda’s North African wing AQIM and Mali’s home-grown Ansar Dine and MUJWA.

West African military chiefs said the French would soon be supported by about 2,000 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and other states – part of a U.N.-mandated deployment that had been expected to start in September before Hollande intervened.

Chad’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, told Radio France International his country alone would send 2,000 troops, suggesting plans for the regional force were already growing.

In Mali, residents said a column of some 30 French Sagaie armoured vehicles

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

Richest 1% responsible for twice the amount of carbon emissions than the poorest 50%

Caitlin Ashworth

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Richest 1% responsible for twice the amount of carbon emissions than the poorest 50% | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Unsplash: Alexander Popov

The richest people in the world, who make up just 1% of the population, are responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions. A study shows that the “1 percenters” make up twice as much carbon pollution than the poorest half of the world. Some say the poor are the least responsible for climate change, but have to deal with most of the negative consequences.

In a 25 year study led by Oxfam, researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute found that wealthy countries were responsible for using up nearly a third of the Earth’s carbon budget. The study was conducted from 1990 to 2015, when annual emissions grew by 60%.

Oxfam is a confederation of 20 independent charitable organisations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, founded in 1942 and led by Oxfam International. It is a major nonprofit group with an extensive collection of operations.

63 million people made up the richest 1% of the world. Since 1990, they have been responsible for 9% of the ‘carbon budget’. The carbon budget is the maximum amount of greenhouse gases that can go into the air before temperature rises to catastrophic levels. 3.1 billion people make up the poorest half of the world’s population. The carbon emissions growth rate of the rich 1% was 3 times more than the poorest half of the world.

There’s not just an economic inequality between the rich and the poor, according to the head of policy, advocacy and research, Tim Gore. He told AFP the research shows the world’s “carbon inequality.”

“It’s not just that extreme economic inequality is divisive in our societies, it’s not just that it slows the rate of poverty reduction …But there is also a third cost which is that it depletes the carbon budget solely for the purpose of the already affluent growing their consumption … And that of course has the worse impacts on the poorest and least responsible.”

Carbon emissions have decreased since the pandemic. But just a few months doesn’t take away the damage that has been done for years. Temperatures are still on track to rise several degrees this century. Although the 2015 Paris climate deal was set to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels, emissions have continued to increase.

“It’s clear that the carbon intensive and highly unequal model of economic growth over the last 20-30 years has not benefited the poorest half of humanity… It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that we have to choose between economic growth and fixing the climate crisis.”

Some say the global economy needs to prioritise “green growth.” If not, the decrease in pollution during the pandemic will have a very small and insignificant overall impact on climate change. Some say carbon emissions affect the poorest nations the most who don’t have enough resources to fight natural disasters possibly brought on by the rising temperatures, like wildfires and droughts.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post | AFP

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World

England’s self-quarantine rule breakers will receive up to a 10,000 pound fine

The Thaiger & The Nation

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England’s self-quarantine rule breakers will receive up to a 10,000 pound fine | The Thaiger

England’s self-quarantine rule breakers are receiving up to a 10,000 pound fine, starting September 28, according to British PM Boris Johnson. The fine will be handed down to anyone who tests positive for the virus or has been in contact with someone who has the virus and dodges the rules for self-quarantine.

For the first offence, rule breakers will receive a 1,000 pound fine and from there it will rise up to 10,000 pounds for those who repeatedly break the rules. Employers who threaten to fire staff over choosing to self-isolate instead of going to work will receive the maximum fine amount of 10,000 pounds. For those lower income workers, Johnson says they will receive a 500 pound support payment in addition to other benefits in which they may qualify.

Despite current British Covid-19 quarantine guidelines matching those of the rest of the world, there has reportedly been little enforcement of self-quarantine rules. Now, Britain is seeing a fast influx of Covid cases prompting the government to get the police involved in compliance checks.

Johnson has come under scrutiny after repeatedly being called to issue a lockdown nationwide with reports coming in that he is planning to reject calls from advisors to issue a 2 week lockdown to slow the virus’ spread.

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Thailand

US accuses Chinese companies of exploitation along the Mekong River

The Thaiger & The Nation

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US accuses Chinese companies of exploitation along the Mekong River | The Thaiger

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is accusing Chinese companies of “exploitative practices” in the Mekong River region after a new partnership has been launched to combat “transnational crimes”. Pompeo named the China Communications Construction Company as one of the big offenders and says the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for the increase in human, wildlife and drug trafficking in the region.

He says the new partnership will also strengthen water security for partner countries where China has added to a drought in the region as an upstream damming by China has been carried out in “a completely non-transparent and non-consultative way.”

“We encourage countries of the Mekong region to hold the CCP accountable to its pledge to share its water data. That data should be public. It should be released year-round. It should include water and water-related data, as well as land use, and dam construction and operation data.”

“We stand with our ASEAN partners as we insist on the rule of law and respect for sovereignty in the South China Sea, where Beijing has pursued aggressive campaigns of coercion and environmental devastation.”

Pompeo also said such companies associated with the CCP are linked to human and narcotics trafficking but he did not provide evidence to support the accusation.

Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand all share resources of the Mekong delta and Pompeo reiterated that they “deserve good partners”. The US has reportedly pledged a total of US$156.4 million for multiple initiatives under the new US-Mekong Partnership.

SOURCE: Chiang Rai Times

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