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Spanish voters go to polls in close-run Galicia election

Spanish voters go to polls in close-run Galicia election

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Spanish voters go to polls in close-run Galicia election

Voters went to the polls in Spain’s northwest region of Galicia on Sunday in a close-run race where polls have suggested the opposition conservative People’s Party (PP) could lose an absolute majority that it has held for 15 years.

The PP have ruled the region for all but four of the past 35 years and their leader, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, is a former Galician regional government chief.

A poll published on Feb 11 by 40dB for El Pais newspaper found that 46% of voters would prefer a coalition of the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) and the Socialist Party to the PP retaining power.

While battling to retain control of its heartland, the PP is also contending with internal conflict after Feijoo appeared to support a conditional amnesty for Catalan separatists – a measure that has been promoted by Spain’s left-wing coalition government and previously opposed by the PP.

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One unlikely possibility is that Gonzalo Perez Jacome, the mayor of Ourense, could become kingmaker. Perez, who has dressed up as a Power Ranger and Superman during the campaign, is fighting to force the regional government to repay “its historic debt” to the town.

Official results are expected by 11 p.m. (10.00 GMT). Results from overseas voters, accounting for 476,000 emigre Galicians, will be counted by Feb 29.

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European states to move on Palestine recognition as Gaza war rages

European states to move on Palestine recognition as Gaza war rages

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European states to move on Palestine recognition as Gaza war rages

 At least three European countries were expected to announce steps towards recognising a Palestinian state on Wednesday, after more than seven months of devastating fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Irish media reported that the government was expected to announce its formal recognition of a Palestinian state at a press conference by premier Simon Harris, deputy premier Micheal Martin and minister Eamon Ryan at 0700 GMT.

Norway was expected to make a similar announcement around the same time, according to two Norwegian newspapers.

And in Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was scheduled to address parliament about setting a date for recognising a Palestinian state.

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Sanchez said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps towards Palestinian recognition, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

Israel’s foreign ministry posted a video addressed to Ireland on X on Tuesday warning that “recognising a Palestinian state risks turning you into a pawn in the hands of Iran and Hamas”.

And Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli previously accused Sanchez’s government of believing “that the Palestinians should be rewarded for the massacre” perpetrated by Hamas and its allies in southern Israel on October 7.

Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

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Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Fighting has raged around the far southern city of Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion — but a resumption of fighting has also been reported in the northern Jabalia area, where Hamas forces have regrouped.

An AFP team in Rafah reported air and artillery strikes in and around the city early Wednesday.

‘Running out of words’

Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.

Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.

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The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled Rafah, with Edem Wosornu of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs saying most of the displaced had gone to camps in Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah where “they lack adequate latrines, water points, drainage and shelter”.

The World Health Organization has said northern Gaza’s last two functioning hospitals, Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan, were besieged by Israeli forces, with more than 200 patients trapped inside.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Tuesday said aid distribution had been suspended in Rafah “due to lack of supplies and insecurity”.

Warrant request

Starvation was among the allegations made against Israel by International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan when he announced on Monday that he had applied for arrest warrants for leaders on both sides, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In an interview with CNN, the prime minister described Khan as a “rogue prosecutor who has put false charges”, adding that “he didn’t check the facts”.

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The warrant request also targeted Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh and its Gaza military and political chiefs, Mohammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar.

US President Joe Biden has backed Netanyahu in condemning the warrant request as “outrageous”.

If granted by the ICC judges, the warrants would mean that any of the 124 ICC member states would be required to arrest Netanyahu and the others if they travelled there.

However, the court has no mechanism to enforce its orders.

Broadcast ban walked back

Israel on Tuesday shut down an Associated Press live video feed from war-torn Gaza and confiscated its equipment, before reversing the move hours later after the White House intervened.

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The US news agency said Israel had accused it of violating a ban on Al Jazeera, which was ordered shut two weeks ago based on a new Israeli law governing foreign broadcasters.

Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi later announced he had issued an order to cancel the ban and return the equipment.

AP said that while it was “pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government’s use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel”.

Israeli forces, meanwhile, were also engaged in deadly clashes in the other major Palestinian territory, the occupied West Bank.

At least eight Palestinians were killed in the northern city of Jenin, the Ramallah-based health ministry said, as the army said it was “fighting armed men” in a “counterterrorism operation”.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa said a hospital surgeon, a schoolteacher and a student were among those killed in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups. 

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Volunteers race to save Mexico’s howler monkeys in heat wave

Volunteers race to save Mexico’s howler monkeys in heat wave

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Volunteers race to save Mexico's howler monkeys in heat wave

 Volunteers are rushing to hoist food and water up into trees in sweltering southern Mexico, but help came too late for the howler monkeys whose lifeless bodies lay still on the ground.

Dozens of the primates are reported to have dropped dead from trees in recent weeks, alarming conservationists trying to keep the monkeys hydrated during a heat wave.

Victor Morato and his team at a veterinary hospital in the town of Comalcalco in Tabasco state have treated eight howler monkeys brought in by residents.

“When they arrived here in agony, they extended their hand to us as if to say ‘help me’. I had a lump in my throat,” he told AFP.

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Several monkeys arrived at the clinic with body temperatures of around 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit), Morato said.

When they faint from the heat they sometimes fall 20 meters (65 feet), he added.

It is all the more worrying since the Mexican howler (Alouatta palliata mexicana) and the Yucatan black howler (Alouatta pigra) are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The mantled howler (Alouatta palliata), which also lives in southern Mexico as well as Central and South America, is classified as vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Species.

Authorities investigate

Leonardo Sanchez was among those putting out water and fruit to help the animals on a cocoa plantation in the southern state of Tabasco.

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The thermometer has reached almost 50 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent weeks, the 22-year-old biology student said.

“We’ve had a large number of deaths (of monkeys) due to the increased temperatures,” he said.

Some volunteers carried lime to sprinkle on the bodies of dead primates.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who hails from Tabasco, said Monday the heat was the worst he had known.

“Since I’ve been visiting these states I’ve never felt it as much as I do now,” he said at his regular news conference.

Mexico’s environment ministry has said that it is investigating whether extreme heat was killing the monkeys, with studies under way to rule out a virus or disease.

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Causes under consideration included heat stroke, dehydration, malnutrition or fumigation of crops with pesticides, it said.

In Tabasco, a vulture lingered and flies swarmed near a grave that volunteer Bersabeth Ricardez said contained the bodies of around 30 monkeys.

“Today it’s the monkeys. Tomorrow it will be us,” she said.

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Everest? All in a day’s work for record climber Kami Rita Sherpa

Everest? All in a day’s work for record climber Kami Rita Sherpa

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Everest? All in a day's work for record climber Kami Rita Sherpa

Scaling the world’s highest peak is all in a day’s work for 54-year-old Nepali mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa, a man breezily modest about having set foot on the summit of Everest more times than any other person.

On Wednesday morning, Sherpa scaled Everest for the 30th time in three decades of climbing the mountain, extending his own record just 10 days after his last successful ascent.

“I am glad for the record, but records are eventually broken,” Sherpa told AFP last week after his 29th successful climb.

“I am happier that my climbs help Nepal be recognised in the world.”

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Dubbed the “Everest Man”, he has held the record since 2018 and his closest rival is now three summits back.

“I did not climb for world records, I was just working,” he said in a 2019 interview. “I did not even know you could set records earlier.”

A living legend of mountaineering, Sherpa was born in 1970 in Thame, a village in the Himalayas famed as a breeding ground of successful mountaineers.

The community’s most famous son, Tenzing Norgay, made the first successful climb of Everest’s 8,849-metre (29,029-foot) peak alongside New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary in 1953.

Growing up, Sherpa watched his father and then his brother don climbing gear to join expeditions as mountain guides, and was soon following in their footsteps.

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A guide for about four decades, he first reached the summit in 1994 while working for a commercial expedition, and has repeated the feat almost every year since.

In 2018, he ascended Everest for the 22nd time, breaking the previous record he shared with two other Sherpa climbers — both of whom have retired.

The following year, aged 49, he conquered Everest twice in six days.

‘The risk we take’

He briefly shared the record last year when another guide, Pasang Dawa Sherpa, equalled his then total of 27 summits.

But he quickly reclaimed it on his own that season with his 28th summit.

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Sherpa has reached the top of four other of the highest Himalayan mountains — K2, Lhotse, Manaslu, and Cho Oyu — and has a world record 44 summits of peaks higher than 8,000 metres.

As a senior climber, he has on numerous occasions led the team that fixes ropes leading up to Everest’s summit, an annual practice before the climbing season begins that makes the ascent safer.

In recent years, he has recounted his own observations of the impact of climate change on the weather patterns on the mountains.

“We now see rock exposed in areas where there used to be snow before. Not just on Everest, other mountains are also losing their snow and ice. It is worrying,” he told AFP in 2022.

He has also been a regular advocate of the importance of Nepali mountain guides and the need for more action to recognise their contributions.

Ethnic Sherpas from the valleys around Everest are a crucial component of Nepal’s lucrative mountaineering industry, which nets the Himalayan republic millions every year.

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With their unique ability to work in a low-oxygen, high-altitude atmosphere, they are the backbone of climbing expeditions, helping clients and hauling equipment up Himalayan peaks.

“It would not be possible for many foreign climbers to summit mountains without our help and the risk we take,” Sherpa said in a 2021 interview. 

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