Australia: Military joins rescue efforts as devastating floods bring crocodiles to streets

Australia: Military joins rescue efforts as devastating floods bring crocodiles to streets

Cairns:  Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating “once-in-a-century” floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets. The Australian Defence Forces filled sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops Monday, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.

Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has far exceeded normal levels. The authorities were forced to open floodgates late Sunday, unleashing what they called “dangerous and high velocity flows.” Images from the city of Townsville showed cars mostly submerged and picket fences barely poking through waist-deep flood waters.

Desperate residents had to contend not only with flash flooding, landslides and power blackouts, but also reptilian predators that have been spotted in residential roads and cul-de-sacs. The Townsville Bulletin said it had received reports of several saltwater crocodile sightings in the flood-ravaged area.

Emergency services struggled to respond, carrying out 18 “swift water rescues” overnight. More than 1,100 people have called the emergency services for urgent help, according to state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Around 400 Townsville residents have sought shelter at nearby Lavarak military barracks and the Red Cross is also assisting with the response and recovery effort.

“Small boats worked through the night to evacuate members of the community,” said local commander Brigadier Scott Winter. Palaszczuk warned the communities face more difficulties ahead. Schools and courts remain closed, more rain is on the way and emergency warnings still in effect for more than a dozen rivers.

The town of Ingham, just north of Townsville, got over 10 centimetres of rain in just a few hours on Monday morning, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Winds are expected to gust at up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) an hour on the coast.
Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, officials said.

“It’s basically not just a one in 20-year event, it’s a one-in-100-year event,” said Palaszczuk. “This is unprecedented, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. The Bureau of Meteorology’s Adam Blazak told AFP the downpours could continue until Thursday, while floodwaters will take some time to recede even when the rains lessen. Some areas are expected to get a year’s worth of rain in just over a week.

The region receives an average of about 2,000 millimetres (6.5 feet) of rain annually, but some towns are already on track to pass that. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Townsville resident Chris Brookehouse told national broadcaster ABC, adding that his house was flooded with water more than one metre deep.

“The volume of water is just incredible. Downstairs is gone, the fridge and freezer are floating. Another five or six steps and upstairs is gone too.” Blazak said that with adverse weather predicted to continue for up to 72 hours, some regions could see record-breaking levels of rainfall.

France: 7 dead, 1 injured after building catches fire in Paris

France: 7 dead, 1 injured after building catches fire in Paris

Paris: Seven people died and another was seriously injured in a building fire in a wealthy Paris neighbourhood on Monday night, the fire service said. “The toll could still increase because the fire is still in progress on the 7th and 8th floors” of the eight-storey block, a fire service spokesman said at the scene. The blaze in the French capital’s trendy 16th arrondissement also left 27 people — including three firefighters — with minor injuries.

Zuckerberg sees ‘positive’ force of Facebook despite firestorm

Zuckerberg sees ‘positive’ force of Facebook despite firestorm

San Francisco: Mark Zuckerberg has said he sees Facebook as a largely “positive” force for society as the embattled social network marked its 15th anniversary. Even as Facebook is facing a wave of criticism over issues of manipulation, misinformation, abuse and other social ills, Zuckerberg said on Monday it would be a mistake “to overly emphasize the negative” impacts of social media and the internet.

The Facebook co-founder and chief executive said he sees profound social changes “as networks of people connected via the internet replace traditional hierarchies and reshape institutions from government to business to media.”

In a post on his Facebook page, he argued that “while any rapid social change creates uncertainty, I believe what we’re seeing is people having more power, and a long term trend reshaping society to be more open and accountable over time.”

He said Facebook and other social networks have fundamentally changed how people interact with their communities and institutions. “I’ll never forget how right after we launched News Feed, we saw millions of people organise marches against violence in Colombia. We saw communities come together to do viral fundraiser,” he wrote.

Zuckerberg added: “If the last 15 years were about people building these new networks and starting to see their impact, then the next 15 years will be about people using their power to remake society in ways that have the potential to be profoundly positive for decades to come.”

Facebook has seen unprecedented success by amassing more than 2.3 billion people worldwide who actively use the social network to share updates, obtain information and connect with new people.

Despite the wave of scandals, Facebook took in a record USD 22 billion profit for 2018 as revenues surged to USD 55 billion. Zuckerberg has acknowledged that Facebook needs to do more to restore trust, and ferret out misinformation and abuse, and on Monday repeated his pledge to spend more “on safety and security.”

His comments come 15 years after he and classmates at Harvard University founded what was known as “the facebook” and began a mission described by Zuckerberg as connecting the world.

India issues ‘demarche’ to American Embassy over detention of Indian students in US

India issues ‘demarche’ to American Embassy over detention of Indian students in US

New Delhi: India Saturday issued a demarche to the American Embassy here, expressing its concern over the detention of Indian students in the US, and sought immediate consular access to them. The External Affairs Ministry said India continues to closely monitor and take proactive measures to address the situation arising out of the detention of several Indian students in connection with their enrolment in a ‘fraudulent university in the US’.

One-hundred-thirty foreign students arrested by US authorities for enroling at a fake university allegedly to remain in that country are largely Indians. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made the arrests on Wednesday.

“Our concern over the dignity and well-being of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated,” it said.

The ministry underlined to the US Embassy that students, who may have been duped into enrolling in the ‘university’ should be treated differently from those recruiters who have duped them.

“We have urged the US side to share full details and regular updates of the students with the government, to release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will,” the ministry said.

The India mission and consulates have visited several detention centres throughout the US to extend consular assistance to the detained students, the MEA said.

“So far, about 30 Indian students have been contacted by our consular officers. Efforts to contact the remaining Indian students are continuing,” it said.

The ministry said a 24/7 helpline has been established in the Indian Embassy in Washington for assistance/queries related to the detention of Indian students. The helpline numbers are: +1-202-322-1190 and +1-202-340-2590 and email is:

The ministry said the Indian government and the Indian Embassy and consulates in the US attach the highest priority to the welfare of the detained students and will continue to work with the American authorities and other stakeholders to address the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shutting down her Facebook page

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shutting down her Facebook page

London: Giving another clue Angela Merkel is in the final phase of her political career, the German Chancellor has announced she is closing down her Facebook page which has more than 2.5 million followers.

Merkel, who handed the leadership of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in December, announced the move to give up her Facebook page in a short video on her official page on Friday, The Guardian reported.

“Today is the day I want to thank you for the strong support of my Facebook page,” Merkel said in the video.

“You know I’m no longer the head of the CDU, and that’s why I will close down my Facebook page.”

Merkel has used the Facebook page to inform her followers about her whereabouts and the latest issues she is focusing on, besides providing details on her favourites — books, films, others.

Merkel will, however, continue to be active on Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram. People will also be able to follow her work on the official German government’s Facebook page. Unlike many politicians, Merkel has so far avoided using Twitter.

Donald Trump says getting closer to declare national emergency

Donald Trump says getting closer to declare national emergency

Washington: US President Donald Trump has said he is getting closer to declaring a national emergency to secure funding for a wall along the country’s southern Mexico border to prevent illegal immigrants from entering America. A national emergency would allow Trump to proceed with a wall without congressional approval and give him executive powers to reallocate disaster relief funds to the southern Mexico border.

Trump told CBS News’ ‘Face the Nation’ programme that the ongoing negotiations with the opposition Democrats over border security are a waste of time. He also accused US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi of being very rigid and doing bad politics.

“I think that she was very rigid – which I would expect – but I think she’s very bad for our country. She knows that you need a barrier, she knows we need border security. Basically, she wants open borders, she does not mind human trafficking,” he said as he accused Pelosi of doing very bad politics.

Pelosi, by her stand against the wall, is costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars, Trump said. “She is doing a terrible disservice to our country,” the US president said. In the interview, as reported by CBS News, he said that negotiations with the opposition Democrats – which started after the government shutdown ended – are a waste of time.

“We will be looking at a national emergency, because I don’t think anything is going to happen. I think the Democrats don’t want border security. And when I hear them talking about the fact that walls are immoral and walls don’t work — they know they work,” he told reporters earlier in the day. Trump insisted that he is building the wall and will continue building it, as this is the only way to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

“I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have to do that. But we will, at the same time, be building – regardless, we’re building wall and we’re building a lot of wall. But I can do it a lot faster the other way,” the president said. Claiming that there are three caravans heading towards the US, he said if there was a wall, it would not even be a problem.

“But we’ve sent 2,500 military down to help Border Patrol and law enforcement. I have to say, the military has done an incredible job, including helping us with some walls and some fences, which are very nice to say.

“Unsecure borders give traffickers free and clear passage to transport their victims into the United States. It’s a tremendously big money-maker for some very, very bad people,” Trump said. Meanwhile, Pelosi’s office accused Trump of making reckless remarks.

“President Trump’s recklessness didn’t make us safer, it undermined our security with 35 days of border patrol agents, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, FBI agents and Homeland Security personnel missing paychecks,” said Drew Hammill, her spokesman. “Democrats have put forward strong, smart and effective border security solutions in the bipartisan conference committee, while the President still refuses to take a second shutdown off the table. “The President’s wild and predictable misrepresentations about Democrats’ commitment to border security do nothing to make our country safer,” she said.

US: 5 killed in two shooting incidents in Louisiana

US: 5 killed in two shooting incidents in Louisiana

Washington: At least five people were killed in two shooting incidents in the US state of Louisiana, police said, adding a manhunt was underway to nab the suspect. Dakota Theriot, 21, is accused of killing his parents, Elizabeth and Keith Theriot, both 50, in the town of Gonzalez in Ascension and three more people in Livingston, CNN reported. “This is probably one of the worst domestic violence incidents I’ve seen in quite a while,” said Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre on Saturday.

The suspect has been charged with two counts of first degree murder, illegal use of weapons and home invasion, Webre told the media. Before killing his parents, Dakota Theriot murdered Billy Ernest, 43, Summer Ernest, 20, and 17-year-old Tanner Ernest on Saturday morning.

According to Webre, the suspect’s parents were alive when deputies arrived at their home later on Saturday and identified their son as the gunman in the Livingston killings. “We don’t know what kind of resources he has or how far he can run. But we don’t think he has great means and a lot of resources,” CNN quoted the Sheriff as saying. Investigators were trying to determine the motive behind the shootings. Webre said detectives have not been able to talk anyone who knows the suspect well.

Hindu Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to hold campaign on Feb 2 for US Presidential elections 2020

Hindu Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to hold campaign on Feb 2 for US Presidential elections 2020

Washington: Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu Congresswoman, plans to hold a rally on February 2 in the US state of Hawaii to formally launch her 2020 White House bid, her campaign has announced. Gabbard, who is not of Indian descent but comes from a Hindu family in Hawaii, will use the rally in Oahu to “gather with friends, family, and supporters to share her vision for the future of our nation”, her campaign said on Friday.

The 37-year-old four-term Democratic congresswoman announced her presidential bid earlier this month during an interview with CNN. She released her first ad on Thursday, highlighting her military service, the Hill newspaper reported.
“Tulsi Gabbard has served in the Army National Guard for nearly 15 years, deployed twice to the Middle East and is one of the first female combat veterans ever elected to Congress. She continues to serve as a Major in the Army National Guard,” her campaign said in a statement announcing the rally.

Gabbard, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, is the only military veteran to declare her candidacy and could be relying on her two tours in the Middle East to differentiate her from many Democratic presidential candidates, including Indian and African-Jamaican descent Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

The Congresswoman is popular for some progressive policies, though she received flak even within her own party over a 2017 meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and past positions opposed to LGBTQ rights. Gabbard issued an apology last week for her past comments and stances on LGBTQ issues, but said she didn’t regret meeting the Syrian leader as American leaders must meet foreign leaders “if we are serious about the pursuit of peace and securing our country”. At the time, Gabbard drew a comparison between her meeting with Assad to President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim-Jong un in 2018.

Pakistan’s Hari Singh Nalwa fort to become museum

Pakistan’s Hari Singh Nalwa fort to become museum

written by Agencies FPJ -Peshawar: The government in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunk­h­wa province has decided to convert a historic fort built by a Sikh commander into a museum. The fort in Haripur district was named after Hari Singh Nalwa, the commander-in-chief of the Sikh Khalsa Army, the army of the Sikh Empire. The fort was built by Nalwa in 1822 over an area of 35,420 square feet.

Nalwa was Commander-in-Chief of the Sikh Khalsa Army, the army of the Sikh Empire. The archaeology department of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sent a note to Chief Minister Mehmood Khan for taking control of the fort and its opening for the tourists. The district administrati­on Haripur has expressed readiness to handover the fort to the archaeology department. The Britishers also carried out some construction work in the fort.

13 dead in 2 days of unrest in Venezuela

13 dead in 2 days of unrest in Venezuela

Caracas: Thirteen people have died during two days of unrest in Venezuela amid protests against leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, a Caracas-based rights group reported on Thursday. The deaths, mostly from gun­shot wounds, were recorded in the capital and across the cou­n­try, along with reports of loo­t­ing in Brazilian border state Bolivar, the Venezuelan Obser­v­atory of Social Conflict told AFP.

Unrest first kicked off on Monday when 27 soldiers rose up against Maduro at a command post in Caracas, calling upon people to “take to the streets” in a video circulat­ed on social media. But the most fierce began on Tuesday night in Caracas and Bolivar — continuing Wednesday across Venezuela on a day of huge opposition-backed protests against Maduro.

In Bolivar’s San Felix, protes­ters burned a statue of former president Hugo Chavez late on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, anti-riot police confronted pro­t­e­sters in east Caracas following the march called for by oppo­sition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim president as part of his aim to remove Maduro. Apart from the capital Caracas, deaths were reported in Tachira, Barinas, Portuguesa, Amazonas and Bolivar states.