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Briefing :- 28/05/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 28th of May, 2017 :-

1. Sri Lanka rushes aid to flood victims, death toll hits 146 :-

Emergency teams rushed to distribute aid Sunday to half a million Sri Lankans displaced after the island’s worst flooding in more than a decade, as authorities upgraded the death toll to 146.

The military has deployed helicopters, boats as well as amphibious vehicles to distribute aid pouring in from residents in areas unaffected by the floods.

Sri Lanka has also sought international assistance, with India rushing a naval ship equipped with a medical team and other supplies Saturday.

A second Indian vessel was due to arrive in Colombo on Sunday, with a third expected Monday, the government said.

The United Nations said it will give water containers, water purification tablets and tarpaulin sheets while the World Health Organization will support medical teams in affected areas.

The official Disaster Management Centre said 112 people were still missing, with 50 injured in hospital, since torrential rain and landslides swept away entire villages.

Floodwaters were receding in some areas after a break in the rain, giving authorities a chance to deliver much-needed supplies to victims who lost everything in the deluge.

Heavy rains on Friday triggered the worst flooding and landslides in 14 years in the southern and western parts of the island.

Many villages were still underwater Sunday, officials said.

Nearly 2,000 houses were damaged or completely destroyed. Almost half a million Sri Lankans had been forced from their homes, with most moving into temporary shelters.

The charity Save the Children said about a tenth of those displaced were children below the age of five years.

It said raised fears of stagnant flood waters becoming breeding grounds for dengue spreading mosquitos and noted that young children were more vulnerable.

Medical teams were dispatched to the worst-affected areas to help prevent an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

“We have the expertise to deal with this situation,” Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said, adding cholera and diarrhoea had been successfully prevented in past floods.

The government withdrew an evacuation order for thousands of residents in the southern district of Matara as water levels subsided.

“The threat of floods around the (river) Nilvala has subsided,” irrigation department director M. Thuraisingham said.

“The flood levels near Colombo have also gone down because we did not have rain in the past 24 hours.”

Water levels in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka’s gem district east of Colombo, subsided but many villages in Kalutara, south of the capital, were still under water, officials said.

The government appealed for bottled water, new clothes and dry rations for those displaced.

Pakistan said it was in talks with Colombo to send relief supplies. Islamabad recently gave 10,000 tonnes of rice to Sri Lanka to help drought victims.

The meteorological department said the rains ended a prolonged drought that had threatened agriculture as well as hydropower generation.

The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.

Monsoon rains last year caused flooding and landslides, killing more than 100 people.

2. Manchester attack probe: 25 year old arrested in Trafford, 14 people in detention :-

A total of 14 people are in detention in Britain and Libya over Monday’s suicide bombing at a pop concert in the English city of Manchester by a British-born man of Libyan origin.

A 25-year-old man was arrested in Old Trafford, to the east of the city on Sunday.

A teenage boy and a woman arrested by British police this week have since been released without charge, leaving 12 in British custody who were arrested “on suspicion of offences contrary to the terrorism act”.

In Libya, the father and brother of the bomber, Salman Abedi, are also in detention.

Abedi reportedly returned from Libya only a few days before the attack which killed 22 people, including seven children under 18, but police are still trying to establish the extent of his wider network. Here are the details of the arrests so far:

a. Police arrest a 24-year-old man in the Chorlton area of south Manchester near where Abedi is believed to have lived. Police had earlier given the man’s age as 23.

An eyewitness told AFP that police shouted at the man to lie on the ground before taking him away. British media indicated that the man is highly likely to be Abedi’s older brother Ismael.

The brother was described in media reports as “outgoing” compared to Salman, who was “very quiet”.

b. Police arrest three more men in south Manchester aged 18, 21 and 24, a short walk from the house where Abedi lived.

Omar Alfaqhuri, a neighbour who lives just in front of a house that was raided, said he saw “a massive deployment of police forces” during the nighttime arrest and a man he named as “Adel” handcuffed and taken away.

“They blocked the whole street,” he said, adding that his neighbours were a “nice quiet family”.

– An 18-year-old man, who police said was carrying a suspect package, is arrested in Wigan, a town near Manchester. No further details were given about him.

– Another man, 22, is arrested in the town of Nuneaton in central England, widening the British police probe beyond areas in and around Manchester.

– Libya’s Deterrence Force, which acts as the police of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, arrests Abedi’s father Ramadan, adding that it had already arrested his brother Hashem on Tuesday.

A spokesman said that the brother was aware of Abedi’s attack plan and that both men belonged to the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

Abedi’s father reportedly protested his son’s innocence in the hours before his arrest.

– In Manchester, a 34-year-old woman is arrested by police in an apartment block in Blackley, in the north of the city. She is later released without charge.

c. – A 16-year-old boy is arrested in Withington, south Manchester. He is later released without charge.

– A 38-year-old man is arrested in Blackley.

d. A 30-year-old man is arrested in Moss Side, an area of Manchester which has been associated with social deprivation and gangs.

A 44-year-old man is arrested in Rusholme, in the south of the city.

e.  Two men aged 20 and 22 are arrested following a raid, involving a controlled explosion, at an address in Cheatham Hill, north Manchester.

f. A 25-year-old man is arrested in Old Trafford, to the east of the city.

3. Bodies of civilians dumbed near Philippines city beseiged by Islamists :-

Bodies of what appeared to be executed civilians were found in a ravine outside a besieged Philippine city on Sunday as a six-day occupation by Islamist rebels resisting a military onslaught took a more sinister turn.

The eight dead men, most of them shot in the head and some with hands tied behind their backs, were labourers who were stopped by Islamic State-linked militants on the outskirts of Marawi City while trying to flee clashes, according to police.

Nine spent bullet casings were found on a blood-stained patch of road at the top of the ravine. Attached to one of the bodies was a sign that said “Munafik” (traitor).

The discovery confirms days of speculation that Maute rebels had killed civilians during a bloody takeover of Marawi City, that the military believes is aimed at winning the Maute recognition from the Islamic State group in the Middle East as a Southeast Asian affiliate.

The army deployed additional ground troops over the weekend and dispatched helicopters to carry out rocket strikes on Maute positions as fighters held buildings and a bridge deep inside a predominantly Muslim city where few civilians remained.

At least 41 militants were killed and 13 military as of Saturday, according to the army. The number of civilian dead was unknown.

The fierce resistance of the Maute gunmen and the apparent executions of civilians will add to growing fears that subscribers to Islamic State’s radical ideology are determined to establish a presence in the southern Philippines, with the support of extremists from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Marawi police officer Jamail C Mangadang told Reuters the eight men found dead were carpenters who were part of an evacuation convoy stopped by rebels late on Saturday.

Recalling information provided by their manager, Mangadang said the victims were pulled off a truck because they were unable to cite verses of the Koran, the Islamic Holy text.

“We heard gunfire, although I’m not sure if it was the same people who were shot,” he said at the scene. “Early in the morning, at 8:20, there are civilians, concerned citizens, who said ‘can you verify these dead bodies?’.”

Fierce battles restarted on Sunday as ground troops engaged Maute fighters with heavy gunfire. Plumes of smoke were seen on the horizon and helicopters fired at least eight rockets on rebel positions.

A surveillance drone circled the sky above Marawi City. Some civilians left on foot, others were seen tying white cloths to poles to distinguish themselves from militants as soldiers huddled behind armoured vehicles slowly advanced.

An ambulance was seen speeding away from the fighting and soldiers said a captured militant was inside.

Tens of thousands of people have fled Marawi since Tuesday, when militants went on the rampage seizing a school, a hospital, and a cathedral.

Christians were taken hostage, according to church leaders, and more than 100 inmates, among them militants, were freed when rebels took over two jails.

Zia Alonto Adiong, a local politician who is coordinating efforts to get people out of the city, said there were bodies of dead civilians in Marawi. He criticised the military for conducting air strikes and for hampering efforts to evacuate civilians.

“Some have no food at all. Some fear for their lives,” he said. “This is a conflict that has gone beyond proportion. The magnitude of the degree of the damage and the people that are affected … it’s really massive.”

The violence erupted in the moments after a failed attempt by security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of a radical faction of another extremist group, who the government believes is Islamic State’s point-man in the Philippines.

The military is certain the Maute are protecting Hapilon and had narrowed down his location. Hapilon leads a radical faction of another Mindanao-based group, the Abu Sayyaf.

The little-known Maute group has staged similar, days-long sieges on Mindanao island but none on the scale of Marawi, where witnesses said flags resembling those of Islamic State had been flown and some men were wearing black headbands.

The Maute group last year killed 14 people in a bombing in the president’s home city, and its battlefield capability has been a serious challenge to a military that has far greater numbers and firepower.

Another concern for the government was the discovery of foreign fighters with the Maute, among them Indonesians and Malaysians, suggesting what was once a domestic problem could mushroom into a larger regional security threat.

4. Isolated Trump to take Paris climate decision next week :-

President Donald Trump said Saturday he would decide next week whether the United States would abide by the 2015 Paris agreement on cutting global carbon emissions.

His announcement came as a summit of G7 leaders in Sicily wrapped up in deadlock on the issue, with US partners voicing frustration at the president’s failure to commit to the deal aimed at stemming global warming.

“I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!” Trump tweeted.

The US leader, concluding his first overseas trip in office, later left for home without giving the customary close-of-summit news conference.

The meeting’s final declaration reflected a stalemate between the US and the six other participating countries, who are all strongly committed to the Paris accord.

“The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics,” it stated.

“Understanding this process, the (other participants) reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement…

“In this context, we all agree on the importance of supporting developing countries.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised what she called “a very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory” discussion with Trump on the issue.

“Here we have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the US will remain in the Paris accord or not,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron struck a more positive note, saying the talks had been useful. “I think there was progress and there was a real discussion and exchange of views,” he said, voicing hope that Trump would decide to keep his country within the Paris framework.

Other delegates concurred that it was “six against one” at the gathering of leading democracies spanning North America, Europe and Japan.

Under Trump, who once called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China and wants to boost the US coal industry, Washington has resisted intense pressure from its partners to commit to respecting the global 2015 accord on curbing carbon emissions.

But Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic advisor, on Friday said the president had told his G7 colleagues that he regarded the environment as important.

“His views are evolving, he came here to learn,” Cohn said. “His basis for decision ultimately will be what’s best for the United States.”

The United States is the world’s biggest carbon emitter after China.

Trump had said he would listen to what US partners have to say at the G7 before making a decision on how to proceed.

Abandoning the Paris agreement would carry a high political cost internationally, with Europe, Canada, China and Japan all strongly committed to the deal.

It would also be fiercely opposed at home by environmental activists and by American corporations that are investing heavily in cleaner technology.

French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, in an interview to be published on Sunday in Le Parisien newspaper, said he found it unlikely “Trump would want to put his country in such an impasse.”

“If Donald Trump decides to pull his country out of the Paris climate agreement, it would provoke a strong reaction from many American states, cities and economic players who are committed to developing renewable energy,” Hulot said. “(…) It would be going tragically against the grain of history.”

Greenpeace regretted the outcome but held out hope that Trump might change tack.

“Europe, Canada and Japan stood up today and made a stand, revealing again how far Trump is out of step with the rest of the world on climate change,” Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace’s international executive director, said in Sicily.

5. South Korean navy to rescue Mongolian vessel off Somalia as India, Germany, Japan, and the US provide air cover :-

A few days after India’s INS Sharda foiled a priacy attempt on a Liberian vessel off Gulf of Aden, the South Korean government today dispatched its anti-piracy naval unit to waters off Somalia after communication with a Mongolian fishing vessel was cut when it requested help, fearing it was being followed by a suspected pirate vessel.

The development comes just over a month after 10 Indians were rescued from a commercial vessel which was hijacked by pirates in waters off Somalia.

“The boat sent a message that it was being approached by some unidentified vessels,” South Korean official told AFP.

“Contact with the fishing boat was then lost, he added.

South Korean foreign ministry said communication with the squid fishing vessel, with three Koreans and 18 Indonesians on board, was cut after midnight on Friday.

The ministry said India, Germany and Japan have deployed aircraft to the waters off Somalia to search for the vessel.

“We are working with authorities in related countries including the United States, Germany, India and Japan,” the ministry said in a statement.

It said South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked related ministries to “put the utmost priority on human lives and make sure that they will be rescued”.

A South Korean navy unit in 2011 stormed a South Korean-operated chemical carrier Samho Jewelry that had been hijacked by Somali pirates, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight pirates.

On Tuesday, Somali pirates hijacked an Iranian fishing vessel to use as a base to attack bigger, more valuable ships, part of an upsurge in attacks following years of relative calm.

This month has seen a new rash of attacks, with two ships captured and a third rescued by Indian and Chinese forces after the crew radioed for help and locked themselves in a safe room.

The sudden string of attacks by Somali pirates comes after years without a reported incident.

Attacks peaked with 237 in 2011 but declined steeply after ship owners improved security measures and international naval forces stepped up patrols.

The United States is closely watching a recent increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia and a senior US military official says the rise in piracy attacks has at least partially been driven by famine and drought in the region.

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