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More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5
9 December 2019, 7:17 PM

More than two dozen people were feared missing on Tuesday, a day after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring up to 20.

Police said early on Tuesday they did not expect to find any more survivors from the volcanic eruption, which occurred on White Island on Monday at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.

About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, are believed to have been nearby at the time and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.

Rescue services have been unable to reach White Island as it remains too dangerous.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said in their statement early on Tuesday after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island.

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”

Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said on Monday, adding that others were still on the island.

“Police (are) working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died…” their statement said, adding that a ship would approach the island at first light on Tuesday to further “assess the environment”.

Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time.

“Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to (have been) involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship,” the police statement said.

St. John Ambulance said up to 20 people were believed to have been injured in the eruption, adding that a mobile triage unit was on its way.

Several people with burn injuries were brought by helicopter to Whakatane, the nearest town on the mainland.

“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference after landing in Whakatane late on Monday.

Ardern was expected to give an update on the situation at a news conference set for 7 a.m. on Tuesday (1800 GMT on Monday).

 

North Korea resumes insults of “erratic old man” Trump
9 December 2019, 3:05 PM

Satellite imagery indicated on Monday that North Korea had tested a rocket engine, and a senior Pyongyang official called Donald Trump a “heedless and erratic old man”, resuming insults of the U.S. president that had been set aside during a thaw.

The statement carried in state media KCNA by Kim Yong Chol, a ruling party vice chairman who was instrumental in arranging a failed second summit in February, was the strongest salvo yet in a war of words that has rekindled in recent days.

He described Trump as impatient, rebuked him over his own rhetoric and repeated a threat from last week that Pyongyang would dust off its previous insult “dotard” for the U.S. leader.

Tensions have been rising in recent weeks as a year-end deadline approaches set by North Korea for Washington to soften its stance in negotiations. Pyongyang has conducted a series of weapons tests and issued strongly worded statements.

Though Trump regularly exchanged insults with North Korea in the first years of his term, both sides had abandoned personal attacks after Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in 2018.

The North Korean official said the country’s leader may change his views towards Trump if the president continues uttering “inappropriate, highly risky words and expressions”.

He pointed to remarks by Trump on Sunday that Kim had “far too much to lose” and did not want to interfere with an upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Those comments indicate Trump is “an old man bereft of patience,” the North Korean official said. “As he is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we cannot but call him a ‘dotard’ again may come.”

“We have nothing more to lose.”

North Korea had lauded a “special relationship” between the leaders even as it criticised other U.S. officials and their “gangster-like” demands during deadlocked talks. However, Pyongyang bristled last week after Trump again referred to Kim as “Rocket Man”, a nickname Trump used early in his term.

On Sunday, North Korea carried out what it called a “very important” test at its Sohae satellite launching station, a rocket-testing ground that U.S. and South Korean officials once said Pyongyang had promised to shut down.

Commercial satellite images taken on Saturday by Planet Labs showed vehicles and equipment likely to be used in a rocket engine experiment, said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.

“They are mostly gone on Dec. 8, but the ground appears to have been disturbed by the exhaust from the test,” Lewis said, citing photos captured on Sunday.

Asked on Monday if it had been an engine test, a spokeswoman for South Korea’s defence ministry said site monitoring and detailed analysis were under way with U.S. intelligence authorities.

 

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn poses with his party's manifesto as he visits Labour activists.
Israel’s foreign minister says he hopes Corbyn loses British election
5 December 2019, 11:56 AM

Israel’s foreign minister said on Thursday that he hopes Jeremy Corbyn loses next week’s British election, citing allegations of anti-Semitism buffeting the Labour Party leader.

With Israel in political disarray of its own after two inconclusive elections, the British contest has elicited few comments from Israeli leaders despite deep concern among British Jews over Corbyn and media reports that some might opt to emigrate if he wins.

Last week, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the Israeli government had not discussed the prospect of Corbyn’s election or the future of intelligence and security ties with Britain should the veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner become its leader.

But pressed on the issue in an Israeli Army Radio interview on Thursday, Katz was more forthcoming as the December 12 ballot approaches.

“I won’t meddle in internal elections but I personally hope that he won’t be elected, with this whole wave of anti-Semitism…I hope the other side wins,” he said.

Labour Party spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Katz played down the prospect that security relations with Britain, which include intelligence sharing over Islamist militant activity, would necessarily be degraded should Corbyn take office.

“Leaders don’t harm their country’s own interests so fast. But we will of course discuss these things if they occur,” Katz said.

Corbyn has rejected allegations of anti-Semitism – last week Britain’s chief rabbi accused him of failing to stem the “poison” gripping Labour – while holding to policies that rile Israel.

Last year, Corbyn said he would recognise a Palestinian state if elected. In a speech on Sunday, he pledged increased oversight of British arms exports to Israel in the name of not fuelling its conflict with the Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Corbyn made a direct apology for not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism in his party.

“Obviously I’m very sorry for everything that has happened, “he said. “But I want to make this clear, I am dealing with it, I have dealt with it.”

Polls have shown Labour trailing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party. And for now, Israel does not appear to be bracing for any influx of British Jewish immigrants.

Asked about this possibility, its Immigration Ministry said in a brief statement only that it “is prepared to take in immigrants from all over the world and welcomes immigration in any political situation”.

The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, which handles immigration requests abroad, said 507 British Jews moved to Israel between January and October, an 8% rise compared with the same period in 2018.

Yigal Palmor, the agency’s head of international relations, played down any sense that Corbyn’s candidacy was a major spur for British Jews to leave.

“We have no solid findings to show an increase in British immigration (due to the elections).

A medical staff member holds a bottle of anti-typhoid vaccine to be given to children during the immunisation campaign at a school.
New typhoid fever vaccine protects young children
5 December 2019, 6:27 AM

The first field trial of a new typhoid vaccine that can be used in young children provides protection for 81.6% of recipients, opening the door to better control of a disease that affects 11 million people each year and kills roughly 117,000.

The test in Nepal “provides the first evidence of the level of impact and the potential for improving the health of children in some of these very vulnerable populations around the world,” lead author Andrew Pollard of Oxford University in the UK told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Preventing typhoid has become particularly important because some strains, particularly in South Asia, are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Pakistan is currently in the midst of an antibiotic-resistant typhoid outbreak.

There are two existing typhoid vaccines. One comes in a capsule that is too large for younger children to swallow, so it is for youngsters over age 6. The other, delivered as an injection, doesn’t work in children under age 2.

As a result, people from Western countries who have young children and travel to parts of the world where typhoid is a threat have to be particularly vigilant to make sure their children drink water that is properly boiled or filtered, and their food is properly prepared, Pollard said.

The new test, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved children as young as 9 months. They will be followed for another year in an attempt to determine how long the vaccine protects against typhoid, a bacterial infection often spread through contaminated water in regions of the world with poor sanitation. Untreated, the disease can leave people sick for weeks or months. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Further two-year field tests are also underway in Bangladesh and Africa to gauge its effectiveness there.

The vaccine, known as TCV, has already been endorsed by the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety based in part on earlier tests at Oxford “where we vaccinated people and deliberately infected them with typhoid by asking them to drink typhoid in a bicarbonate solution. That demonstrated that the vaccine was protective,” said Pollard.

The results from Nepal show the vaccine can work in a setting where typhoid is common.

“I would call this new study more of an implementation and impact study,” he said. “These new studies are about providing confidence in the field about the way the vaccine could be introduced in vaccinating everyone from 9 months to 15 years of age, and it’s showing this huge impact.”

The TCV, or typhoid conjugate vaccine, was developed by Bharat Biotech International of Hyderabad, India. Except for donating some of the vaccine, sold under the brand name Typbar-TCV, Bharat was not involved in the test.

The vaccine was given to 10,005 children in Lalitpur, Nepal, where the disease is endemic. Another 10,014 were immunized against meningococcal disease (MenA) to serve as a control group. One dose was given. It took about a month for the vaccine to provide protection.

Potential cases of typhoid were identified among children who were reported to have a fever lasting at least two days during a visit to Patan Hospital or one of 18 clinics. Blood cultures were used to confirm the infection. Telephone calls at three-month intervals were used to identify additional cases and vaccination side effects.

While 38 children given meningococcal conjugate vaccine developed typhoid fever, there were only 7 cases among the youngsters given the TCV.

Reported adverse events were similar in both groups and the rate of vaccine-related fever within the first week after treatment was about 5% in both groups.

The researchers chose the lower age limit of 9 months to coincide with the time when babies get their measles vaccinations.

The test was conducted by the Baltimore, Maryland-based Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, a partnership between Oxford, the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the international nonprofit organization PATH.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Sunrise, Florida.
Legal experts tell Congress that Trump’s actions are impeachable
5 December 2019, 6:09 AM

Three legal experts told US lawmakers on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival amounted to impeachable offenses, in a hearing that laid the groundwork for formal charges to be filed against the president.

Democrats on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said they may look beyond Trump’s relations with Ukraine as they draw up articles of impeachment, to include his earlier efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s relations with Russia

“The president’s alleged offenses represent a direct threat to the constitutional order,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said.

The impeachment inquiry, launched in September, focuses on Trump’s request that Ukraine conduct investigations that could harm political rival Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

The hearing on Wednesday was the committee’s first to examine whether Trump’s actions qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanours” punishable by impeachment under the US Constitution.

Three law professors chosen by the Democrats made clear during the lengthy session that they believed Trump’s actions constituted impeachable offenses.

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” said University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt.

But George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who was invited by the Republicans, said he did not see clear evidence of illegal conduct. He said the inquiry was moving too quickly and lacked testimony from people with direct knowledge of the relevant events.

“One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president,” said Turley, who added that he did not vote for Trump.

Trump has denied wrongdoing.

In London for a NATO meeting, he called a report by House Democrats released on Tuesday that laid out possible grounds for impeachment a “joke” and appeared to question the patriotism of the Democrats, asking: “Do they in fact love our country?”

EXTENDING FOCUS BEYOND UKRAINE?

Democrats who control the House may vote by the end of the year on impeachment charges that could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. Lawmakers say no decision has been made at this point.

Democratic aides said Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine echoed his attempts to impede Mueller’s investigation. Both episodes, they said, demonstrated a pattern of behaviour by which Trump invited foreign governments to interfere in US elections and obstructed investigations into his actions.

But they stopped short of saying it could form the basis for a separate article of impeachment.

Moderate Democrats might not back that approach. “We have been taking the country down this road on this very targeted issue of Ukraine,” said Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, who won a Republican-controlled seat in Michigan last year. “And that’s what I think we should focus on.”

If the House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would have to vote on whether to remove him from power. Republicans in both chambers have stuck with the president, blasting the impeachment effort as an attempt to undo his surprise victory in the 2016 election.

“The evidence against the president is really about policy differences,” said Representative Doug Collins, the committee’s top Republican.

The inquiry’s focus is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was US vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.

Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine – a US ally facing Russian aggression – to pressure Zelenskiy to announce that he was investigating Biden and the 2016 election.

Trump has instructed current and former members of his administration not to testify or produce documents, leading senior officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to defy House subpoenas.

Republicans focused their questions on Turley, who largely backed up their view that Democrats had not made the case for impeachment – although he did say that leveraging US military aid to investigate a political opponent “if proven, can be an impeachable offense.”

Democrats sought to buttress their case by focusing their questions on the other three experts – Gerhardt, Harvard University law professor Noah Feldman and Stanford University law professor Pam Karlan – who said impeachment was justified.

Karlan drew a sharp response from Republicans for a remark about how Trump did not enjoy the unlimited power of a king.

“While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,” she said.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham on Twitter called Karlan “classless,” and first lady Melania Trump said Karlan should be “ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering” for mentioning her 13-year-old son.

Karlan later apologized for the remark.

No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment, although Republican Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House began the impeachment process in the Watergate corruption scandal. Two other presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.

The committee could soon recommend articles of impeachment against Trump, setting up a possible vote by the full House before Christmas, followed by a Senate trial in January.

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