North and South Korean troops have exchanged fire across the border, a South Korean official said. North Korea fired two rounds towards South Korea at their tense border on Friday and South Korean troops immediately fired back, highlighting the security problems faced by Seoul as it prepares to host Barack Obama and other world leaders at the Group of 20 economic summit next month.
An official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the exchange of fire at the heavily militarized border began when North Korean troops fired at a South Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone.
There were no South Korean injuries and it was unclear whether it was an accident or an intentional provocation, the official said. He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The guard post is 73 miles (118 kilometers) northeast of Seoul.
The firing of the 14.5—mm rounds came hours after North Korea criticized the South for rejecting a proposal to hold military talks and vowed to retaliate.
Shooting incidents are infrequent at the border. The last such incident was in 2007 when South Korea said North Korean soldiers opened fire and the South shot back. No South Korean soldiers were hurt and it was unclear if anyone was injured in the North.
Despite Friday’s exchange of fire, previously arranged reunions of hundreds of families separated by the Korean War will go ahead Saturday in the North as scheduled, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae—sung said.
SIDOREJO, Indonesia - Disaster-prone Indonesia paused Thursday to bury victims of Mount Merapi's violent eruption, including an elderly spiritual leader appointed to hush the volcano's restless spirits.
More than 20 of the 32 victims were buried in a mass grave in central Java as the country reels from the twin disasters of Tuesday's eruption and a tsunami which struck Sumatra island on Monday, killing more than 300 people.
Government volcanologists said Merapi, the most active volcano in an archipelago studded with smouldering peaks, had been relatively quiet since the deadly eruptions which smothered the surrounding countryside in fine ash.
Inside the danger zone on Thursday, the landscape was a picture of devastation.
Houses were flattened and burnt, pine trees stood like chopsticks with leaves and branches seared away, and thick gray ash covered everything.
The stench of rotting bodies, of people and livestock, was strong in places, while clouds of white and black smoke rose menacingly from the mouth of the volcano above.
More than 50,000 people crammed into uncomfortable temporary shelters near the Central Java provincial capital of Yogyakarta were told it was too soon to return home.
In addition to the mass burial, other victims were being laid to rest in private ceremonies, including a revered elder known as Grandfather Marijan, the royal guardian of the mountain.
Appointed by the sultan of Yogyakarta to watch over the sacred "Mountain of Fire" and appease its spirits, the frail 83-year-old ignored orders to leave and died as he prayed at his home on the volcano's slopes.
Scores of people saw his body, wrapped in a blood-stained white sheet, lowered into a grave to the sound of chanted prayers.
Most of the victims died of burns or suffocation as searing ash and clouds of heated gas spewed out of the crater around 6 pm (1100 GMT) on Tuesday. Many were found huddled together in their homes. Many more almost certainly would have been killed had the government not issued a maximum red alert warning of an imminent eruption on Monday and ordered people to evacuate a 10-kilometre (six-mile) zone around the mountain.
BUZIOS, Brazil - Rescuers are trying to set free a 25-ton humpback whale stranded on a sand bank in southeastern Brazil. Diogo Chaves of the environment department at the beach resort city of Buzios says the 39- foot-long (12-meter-long) whale got stranded on Monday while feeding on a school of small fish in shallow waters.
He said Tuesday that rescuers have tied ropes around the whale’s body and that a tugboat will try to take it to open sea when the tide rises.
Chaves said he did not know what caused the whale to swim so close to shore.
Earlier this month, marine scientists said a record 75 humpback whales have been found dead on the Brazilian coast this year. The previous high was 41 in 2007. Most died at sea and their carcasses washed ashore.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Despite the slew of headline mega-projects worth billions and the thumbs-up from former premier Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister Najib Razak's Budget 2011 will marginalize the already-poor states of Sabah and Sarawak, while leaving opposition-run industrial hub Penang completely out of the loop.
According to Tony Pua, MP for Petaling Jaya Utara, the majority of projects announced were slated for West Malaysia. Najib had only allocated Sabah and Sarawak RM9.55 billion or a "meagre" 8 per cent of the total value of projects cited in the 2011 spending plan.
“The value of all the projects cited which are specifically located in West Malaysia amounted to a massive RM109.74 billion and this will include some of the headline projects such as the RM40 billion MRT system for the Klang Valley, the RM26 billion KL International Financial District, an estimated RM10 billion worth of new highways, a RM10 billion mixed property development in Sungai Buloh by EPF as well as the RM5 billion controversial 100-storey Warisan Merdeka,” Malaysian Insider reported Tony as saying.
Najib had unveiled an RM214 billion budget for 2011, the biggest ever in Malaysian history, split into RM162.8 billion for operating expenditure (up 7 percent over the previous year), RM49.2 billion for development (down 9 percent) and RM2 billion for contingencies.
Budget 2011 raised public concerns about his administration's push for a higher operating expenditure and also cast the spotlight on several mega-projects, namely a RM40 billion MRT network for Kuala Lumpur, another world's-tallest-type of building in the form of the 100-story Warisan Merdeka (illustrated picture) also in Kuala Lumpur, the 26 billion KL International financial district and a RM3billion eco-leisure project in Sabah that is speculated will include a casino.
"If we take out the eco-leisure project, it would only leave about RM6billion for both Sabah and Sarawak. These are the two hugest states in terms of land area, poverty levels and have greatest need for infrastrucre. Yet the allocation is just a bit more than the RM5billion 100-storey building in KL, which everyone says is all wrong especially in terms of timing the launch and will only create traffic havoc which will again require more money to be spent to correct," a research director at a large brokerage told Malaysia Chronicle.
Nonetheless, Najib's budget was lauded by Malaysian former premier, Mahathir Mohamad.
“What is interesting for me is that money is being spent to build this tower. When you spend money, then you create jobs, you create opportunities for doing business. I don’t know if it should be a 100-storey tower or not but spending money is good,” Mahathir told reporters.
Paul, an aquarium octopus, which correctly predicted the results of eight World Cup football matches in succession this summer, has died, the Sealife Oberhausen visitor attraction in Germany said.
Spain hailed Paul as a national treasure after the animal twice picked the Spaniards as winners, first against Germany then over the Dutch in the final. The animal died in his pool in the night between Monday and Tuesday.
Aquarium staff employed Paul as an oracle by giving him a choice of two plastic buckets, each marked with a national flag, and seeing which one he reached into first for his favourite food, shellfish.
Some of the losing nations at the football fest in South Africa blamed Paul for their defeat and wanted to turn him into calamari rings. Others offered high sums to buy the aquarium star, but the Sealife chain said he was too old to go.
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Indonesia ordered thousands of people to evacuate from around Mount Merapi on Monday as it raised the alert for its most active volcano to red, warning of a possible imminent eruption. Seismic activity has escalated dramatically at the volcano on the densely populated island of Java, with increasing lava spurts and about 500 multi-phased volcanic earthquakes recorded over the weekend, said officials.
The state office of volcanology had upgraded its alert level to red at 6.00 a.m. (2300 GMT), signalling an eruption could be imminent.
“The magma has been pushed upwards due to the escalating seismic energy and it’s about a kilometre below the crater,” said government volcanologist Surono.
About 19,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate a danger zone of 10 km from the crater of the 2,914-metre mountain. About 3,000 have already moved to makeshift camps, said officials.
Merapi — whose name means “Mountain of Fire” — has been blanketed with clouds since the morning.
The volcano is the most active of 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia, which straddles major seismic fault lines in a region known as the “Pacific Ring of Fire”. Mount Merapi last erupted in June 2006 killing two people.
Its deadliest eruption occurred in 1930 when more than 1,300 people were killed. Heat clouds from another eruption in 1994 killed more than 60 people. In August, the 2,460-metre Mount Sinabung on the island of Sumatra erupted for the first time in 400 years, sending thousands of people into temporary shelters.
LONDON, England - Ministers are planning a massive sell-off of Britain’s state-owned forests as they seek to raise billions of pounds to help cut the deficit, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce plans within days to dispose of about half of the 748,000 hectares (1.85 million acres) of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission by 2020, according to the newspaper.
The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies, the report added.
The forestry commissions lands were last valued in the 1990s at 2.5 million pounds, the Telegraph said.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that the Government will be setting out its details of its “strategic approach” to forestry this autumn.
“We will ensure our forests continue to play a full role in our efforts to combat climate change, protect the environment and enhance biodiversity, provide green space for access and recreation, alongside seeking opportunities to support modernisation and growth in the forestry sector,” a spokesman said.
Allan MacKenzie, the secretary of the Forestry Commission Trade Unions, warned that they would fight the sell-off.
“Once we’ve sold it, it never comes back. Once it is sold, restrictions are placed on the land which means the public don’t get the same access to the land and facilities that are provided by the public forest estate,” he told the Telegraph.
“The current system means a vast amount of people can enjoy forests and feel ownership of them. It is an integral part of society.”
Photo illustrating the business district of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Downtown effected by the haze due to forest burning in Sumatra, Indonesia
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Singapore and Malaysia had urged Indonesia to snuff out the uncontrolled fires in Sumatra. These were caused by dry weather and also unregulated activities. Malaysia also said the haze, the worst in four years, was not just Indonesia’s problem. And Indonesia agreed to address the trans-boundary issue.
Fire control officials in Indonesia blamed lax law-enforcement that allowed fires to be set off in the first place.
Subjected to this request, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa(photo) has expressed resolve to address the problem of haze that was affecting neighbouring Singapore and parts of Malaysia.
Mr. Natalegawa was speaking in Jakarta after Singapore and Malaysia had urged Indonesia to snuff out the uncontrolled fires in Sumatra. These were caused by dry weather and also unregulated activities.
Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo telephoned Mr. Natalegawa to inform him that the smoke cover over the City-State had crossed the unhealthy limit. Singapore promised Indonesia immediate help to put out the fires.
IWO JIMA, Japan - Two mass graves that may hold the remains of up to 2,000 Japanese soldiers have been discovered on the island of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest and most iconic battle-sites of World War II, a report and officials said today.IWO JIMA, Japan.
The discovery of the remains would be one of the biggest world war II breakthroughs in decades toward finding the bodies of roughly 12,000 Japanese who remain missing and presumed dead after the 1945 battle on the island, which has been renamed Iwoto by the Japanese government.The island was seen as key to the United States because it had three airfields that could be used to launch raids on Tokyo and Japan’s main islands.
A team of Japanese searchers has discovered 51 remains in two areas listed by the U.S. military after the war as enemy cemeteries, one of which could contain as many as 2,000 bodies, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said today.The team was to report its findings later today to the prime minister’s office.
Officials at Japan’s health ministry, which supervises search efforts on the remote island, confirmed that 51 bodies had been recovered and two sites believed to be burial grounds had been found. But they could not immediately confirm the potential size of the mass graves or other details of the Kyodo report.
Virtually all of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers tasked with defending the rugged, volcanic crag were killed in the battle, which became a symbol and rallying point for the United States in the Pacific war after the US flag was raised on its highest ground, Mount Suribachi.
The battle claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives.Dozens of remains are recovered every year, but about 12,000 Japanese are still classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the island, along with 218 Americans. According to the Kyodo report, searchers dug near a runway at a base used by the Japanese military – the only full-time inhabitants of the island – and at the foot of Suribachi.It said the operation began early this month based on information from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
A United Nations source has told Al Jazeera that the severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration that has killed at least 138 people and infected more than 1,500 others in Haiti in the last two days was caused by cholera. "The ministry of health has confirmed to us that it is cholera," Imogen Wall of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Hundreds of patients lay on blankets in a car park outside St Nicholas hospital in the port city of Saint Marc with drips in their arms for rehydration on Thursday.
Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker, reporting from outside a hospital where about 1,400 people were seeking treatment, described the scene as "absolutely horrific".
"There were streams of patients arriving all the time being driven in from remote villages in the region, with severe cases of dehydration, acute diarrhoea and vomiting.
"We're hearing of cases all around the region we are in now. It's a rural region, the farming heartland of Haiti. There is a lot of poverty, high rates of unemployment, and there is very little drinking water available."
Al Jazeera's Walker said the authorities' priority was to prevent the disease from spreading into camps where thousands of people left homeless by January's devastating earthquake are sheltering.
More than 250,000 people were killed in the earthquake and another 1.2 million were left homeless.
The Lower Artibonite region, where the outbreak is centred, did not experience significant damage in the quake but has absorbed thousands of refugees from the capital Port-au-Prince, 70km south of Saint Marc.
Aid groups have voiced concern for months that any outbreak of disease could spread rapidly in the country due to the unsanitary conditions in the makeshift camps housing the homeless, with little access to clean water.
Wall said the UN's priority was to provide basic sanitation to help people get rehydrated.
Relief organisations were mobilising to ship medicine, water filtration units and other relief supplies to the Artibonite region. Cholera is transmitted by water but also by food that has been in contact with unclean water contaminated by cholera bacteria.
It causes serious diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to dehydration. The disease is easily treatable by rehydration and antibiotics, but with a short incubation period, it can be fatal if not treated in time.
The World Health Organisation defines cholera as "an extremely virulent disease. It affects both children and adults and can kill within hours".
The impoverished Caribbean nation has also been hit in recent days by severe flooding, adding to the misery of those struggling to survive in the scores of tent cities now dotting the country.
Reconstruction has barely begun despite billions of dollars pledged for Haiti in the wake of the disaster. Less than 15 per cent of money promised at a UN donor's conference in March has been delivered.
French students demonstrate against France's government pension reform in Montpellier, southern France
French protesters blockaded Marseille’s airport, truckers tied up highways and Lady Gaga cancelled concerts in Paris ahead of a tense Senate vote on Thursday on raising the retirement age. A quarter of the nation’s gas stations were out of fuel despite President Nicolas Sarkozy’s orders to force open fuel depots barricaded by striking workers.
Gasoline shortages and violence on the margins of student protests have heightened the standoff between the government and labour unions who see retirement at 60 as a hard—earned right.
Students barricaded a Paris high school and planned protests nationwide later on Thursday, as the Senate wraps up protracted debate on a reform that Mr. Sarkozy calls crucial to his presidency.
Student protests have forced the government to its knees in the past, and in recent days some have degenerated into violence. Rioters threw stones at the police on Wednesday night in the city of Lyon.
The French government, like many heavily indebted governments around Europe, says raising the retirement age and overhauling the money—losing pension system is vital to ensuring that future generations receive any pensions at all.
French unions say the working class is unfairly punished by the pension reform and that the government should find money for the pension system elsewhere. They fear this reform will herald the end of an entire network of welfare benefits that make France an enviable place to work and live.
NEW YORK, UN - According to the United Nation’s report “The World’s Women 2010,” the gender gap is gradually reducing globally but clearly lots more needs to be done Women’s equality is still a dream in a world where there are currently 57 million more men, according to a U.N. report released here.
“The World’s Women 2010” says women are living longer than men; enrolment of girls in primary school has increased to 86 per cent in 2007 up from 79 per cent in 1999 and around 52 per cent of women work compared with 77 per cent of men.
But it also found that despite legislation, many pregnant women still lose their jobs and that women remain severely underrepresented in decision-making positions in parliaments, government, and the private sector, where only 13 of the world’s 500 largest corporations are led by female CEOs.
The report was released on Wednesday on the first U.N. World Statistics Day, established to pay tribute to statisticians around the world.
In an introduction, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the report “is intended to contribute to the stocktaking being done to mark the 15 anniversary of the Beijing conference” on women where 189 nations adopted a platform to achieve equality for women.
Despite progress on several fronts, Mr. Ban said the report “makes clear that much more needs to be done, in particular to close the gender gap in public life and to prevent the many forms of violence to which women are subjected.”
According to the report, the 57 million more men in the world are concentrated in the youngest age groups, especially in the most populous countries, China and India.
“This surplus of men steadily diminishes until it disappears at about age 50, thereafter becoming a surplus of women owing to their longer life expectancy,” the report said.
The report also said people are marrying at older ages than in the past — especially women.
In many European countries, the average age at which women first marry is 30 or older, it said, but in some of the least developed African countries like Mali and Niger the average age is still below 20, with 20 per cent of brides in Niger 15-years-old or younger.
In every region, more than 50 per cent of the people over 60 are women, the report said. In southern Africa the share of women over 60 is 59 per cent and in Eastern Europe it’s 63 per cent.
While primary school is making progress toward gender parity, the report said 72 million children, 54 per cent of them girls aren’t going to school. A significantly lower proportion of boys and girls attend secondary school, but over the past two decades men’s dominance in higher education has been reversed globally and there are now more women than men attending college, the report said.
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier frisks a motorcyclist on a street in Karachi.
KARACHI, Pakistan - Parts of Pakistan's largest city shut down on Wednesday after an attack on a scrapyard pushed to 51 the number of people killed in four days. Some shops were set on fire in an outlying neighborhood of Karachi, where police tried to calm gathering crowds, footage broadcast on Pakistani TV stations showed.
The violence in Karachi comes as Pakistan is engaged in talks with the US on the future of their shaky alliance against the Taliban and Al Qaida.
US officials in Washington are expected to discuss on Wednesday a long-term military and security assistance pact with a visiting Pakistani delegation.
Karachi, a port city of some 16 million, has a long history of political, ethnic and religious strife, but this year has been exceptionally bloody.
As of June, around 300 "targeted killings" had occurred in the city, roughly twice that of 2009. Many of the killings in Karachi have been linked to gangs allegedly controlled by political parties.
The wave of violence in the city has coincided with Sunday's election to replace a provincial lawmaker killed in August.
Because of its status as the country's main economic hub, keeping Karachi calm is of prime importance to Pakistani leaders.
A major chunk of supplies for US and Nato troops is shipped to the city before traveling overland in Pakistan and into neighboring Afghanistan. And Al Qaida and Taliban fighters are believed to frequent Karachi to rest and raise funds.
In the latest attack, gunmen opened fire in the scrapyard, which was in a commercial market area, killing 11 people late Tuesday.
The dead included eight Pakistanis of Baluch descent, said Sharmila Farooqi, a provincial government spokeswoman.
Farooqi said police detained 55 suspects in connection with the latest violence, and that some were linked to local political parties.
Security forces were patrolling the city to prevent fresh violence Wednesday, she said. In many neighborhoods, businesses shut down, while public transportation was scarce.
Footage on Pakistani TV showed several small shops, including fruit and vegetable stalls, ablaze in Malir, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city.
Young men ran onto the streets, and police officers tried to keep the situation under control, the footage showed.
The two parties most linked to violence in Karachi - the Muttahida Quami Movement and the Awami National Party - have their electoral bases in different ethnic groups that make up a large share of the city's population.
The MQM claims to represent the Urdu-speaking descendants of those people who came to Karachi from India soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947.
It is secular and likes to speak out against the so-called Talibanization of the city, a jab at the Awami National Party, which represents the ethnic Pashtuns from the Taliban heartland in the northwest.
Raza Haider, the member of the provincial assembly who was gunned down in August, was a senior member of the MQM.
Both parties were competing for Haider's seat, but the ANP announced Saturday evening that it would boycott the election, saying the MQM would rig the vote. The MQM won the seat.
MQM lawmaker Haider Abbas Rizvi said the party had handed authorities a list of 150 alleged criminals it suspects in the attacks but that nothing had come of it.
He not only blamed the ANP, but also faulted the Pakistan People's Party, which control's the provincial government.
ANP spokesman Amin Khattak said the MQM was to blame, noting that the killings began shortly after his party said it would boycott the election. Also Wednesday, a police constable was wounded when someone threw a grenade at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Pakistan's main northwestern city, Peshawar, said Liaquat Ali, a senior police official. Peshawar is right on the edge of Pakistan's tribal belt, a lawless stretch of territory along the Afghan border where many militants shelter.
GROZNY - Militants on Tuesday stormed and seized the parliament building in Russia’s troubled region of Chechnya, taking hostages and killing at least two security guards, officials said.
Heavily-armed unspecified number of militants and suicide bombers stormed into the Parliament building in the provincial capital Grozny as speaker Dukuwakha Abdurahmanov was inside the premises, according to RIA Novosti news agency report.
As militants raced into the building after overpowering the guards, a suicide bomber blew himself up on the grounds of the premises near the office of speaker, killing two people and wounding many others.
According to other reports, the militants have also launched simultaneous attacks on other state buildings in a most deadly attack since 2004 Beslan high school hostage crisis.Speaker Abdurahmanov, who was in the parliament building, was reported to be safe.
NTV channel said the sporadic firing could still be heard from inside the parliament building and authorities rushed commando teams to suppress the militant attack.
“At the moment the shooting is continuing and special units of interior ministry troops, riot police and the Chechen presidential security service are arriving at the building,” a security source told Interfax.
It said that according to some sources the shooting was in the office of the parliament speaker.The attack coincided with the visit of Federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to Grozny, who was immediately informed about the attack.
Interfax reported that in two suicide blasts at least four guards were killed and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is personally carrying the operation to flush out the militants from the building. In 2004, over 330 people were killed in Russia’s most shocking hostage tragedy when Chechen militants stormed a school in the town of Beslan in the Northern Cacuasus region of North Ossetia.