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Rescuers race to find Turkiye-Syria quake survivors as toll tops 21,000

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Rescuers race to find Turkiye-Syria quake survivors as toll tops 21,000

Rescuers were scouring debris on Friday nearly 100 hours after a massive earthquake hit Turkiye and Syria, killing at least 21,000 people in one of the region’s worst disasters for a century.

The first UN aid deliveries arrived on Thursday in Syrian rebel-held zones, but chances of finding survivors have dimmed since the passing of the three-day mark that experts consider a critical period to save lives.

Bitter cold hampered search efforts in both countries, but more than 80 hours after the disaster struck, 16-year-old Melda Adtas was found alive in the southern Turkish city of Antakya.
Her overjoyed father was in tears and the grieving nation cheered an agonisingly rare piece of good news.

“My dear, my dear!” he called out as rescuers pulled the teen out of the rubble and the watching crowd broke into applause.

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The 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday as people slept, in a region where many had already suffered loss and displacement due to Syria’s civil war.

Top aid officials were planning to visit affected areas with World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths both announcing trips.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, said she had arrived in Aleppo.

“Communities struggling after years of fierce fighting are now crippled by the earthquake,” Spoljaric tweeted on Wednesday.
“As this tragic event unfolds, people’s desperate plight must be addressed.”

Aid reaches rebel areas

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An aid convoy crossed the Turkish border into rebel-held northwestern Syria on Thursday, the first delivery into the area since the quake, an official at the Bab al-Hawa crossing told AFP.

The crossing is the only way UN assistance can reach civilians without going through areas controlled by Syrian government forces.

A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkiye and Syria.

Four million people living in the rebel-held areas have had to rely on the Bab al-Hawa crossing as part of an aid operation authorised by the UN Security Council nearly a decade ago.

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“This is the moment of unity, it’s not a moment to politicise or to divide but it is obvious that we need massive support,” Guterres said.

Freezing temperatures

Temperatures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, located near the epicentre of the quake, plunged to minus three degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit) early on Friday.

Despite the cold, thousands of families had to spend the night in cars and makeshift tents — too scared or banned from returning to their homes. Parents walked the streets of the city carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent.

Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened at night. But beds are scarce and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

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“I fear for anyone who is trapped under the rubble in this,” said Melek Halici, who wrapped her two-year-old daughter in a blanket as they watched rescuers working into the night.

‘The quiet is agonising’

Monday’s quake was the largest Turkiye has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.

Officials and medics said 17,674 people had died in Turkey and 3,377 in Syria from Monday’s tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 21,051.

Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply.
Anger has mounted over the government’s handling of the disaster.

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“People who didn’t die from the earthquake were left to die in the cold,” Hakan Tanriverdi told AFP in Adiyaman province, one of the areas hardest hit.

On a visit to the area, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted there had been “shortcomings” in the government’s handling of the disaster.

Despite the difficulties, thousands of local and foreign searchers have not given up the hunt for more survivors.

In the devastated Turkish town of Nurdagi, close to the epicentre, emergency workers using drones and heat-detecting monitors ordered silence when a potential survivor was found.

“The quiet is agonising. We just don’t know what to expect,” Emre, a local resident, said as he waited next to one block on a main road into the town.

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Relief pledges

Dozens of nations, including China and the United States, have pledged to help.

The World Bank said it would give $1.78 billion in aid to Turkiye to help relief and recovery efforts.

Immediate assistance of $780 million will be offered from two existing projects in Turkiye, said the bank, while an added $1 billion in operations is being prepared to support affected people.

In addition to a staggering human toll, the quake’s economic cost appears likely to exceed $2 billion and could reach $4 billion or more, Fitch Ratings said.

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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