More than 2 million Muslims gather for Hajj pilgrimage

Viet Nam News

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — More than two million Muslims from around the world will start the hajj pilgrimage at Islam’s holiest sites on Wednesday, a religious duty and an epic multi-stage journey.

This year sees pilgrims from Shiite Iran return after a hiatus following a diplomatic spat between the Islamic republic and Sunni arch-rival Saudi Arabia.

It also comes with the Gulf mired in political crisis and Islamic State group jihadists under pressure in Iraq and Syria.

Saudi authorities have mobilised vast resources in hope of avoiding a repeat of a deadly 2015 stampede that left nearly 2,300 people dead, including 464 Iranians.

Riyadh and Tehran cut ties months later, after the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia sparked attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

The pilgrimage also comes amid a diplomatic crisis between a Saudi-led bloc of Arab countries and Qatar, accused of supporting extremist groups and being too close to Riyadh’s arch-rival Tehran.

A blockade imposed on Qatar since June 5 has seen sea and air links shut down, preventing many Qataris from making hajj, although Riyadh relaxed entry restrictions across its land border with the emirate two weeks before the pilgrimage.

The colossal religious gathering comes with IS under pressure having lost swathes of territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria. But the group continues to claim attacks in the Middle East and Europe.

Saudi authorities say they are ready for any eventuality.

Interior ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki said more than 100,000 security personnel had been deployed at various sites along the hajj route.

’New emotions every time’

After donning the simple garb of the pilgrim, the faithful gather in the esplanade of Mecca’s Grand Mosque with its seven minarets.

There, they perform a ritual walk seven times around the Kaaba, a black masonry cube wrapped in a heavy silk cloth embroidered with Koranic verses in golden embroidery.

The shrine is the point towards which Muslims around the world pray.

Pilgrims then head for Mina, five kilometres further east, where hundreds of thousands of people will gather before setting off on Thursday at dawn to climb Mount Arafat, the pinnacle of the pilgrimage.

Tidjani Traore, a public service consultant from Benin, said he was preparing for his 22nd pilgrimage at the age of 53.

"Every time, there are new emotions," he said. "There are new innovations for organising and hosting the pilgrims. Now, for example, the tents are air-conditioned."

Saudi authorities have placed misting fans on the esplanade of the Grand Mosque to take the edge off the intense heat.

On the eve of the first rites of the pilgrimage, the walkways thronged with people and the smell of musk wafted through the air.

Sitting in the shade of trees or reinforced concrete bridges, the faithful waited patiently for the next call to prayer. Others continued their march, protected by a prayer mat or a small umbrella fixed on the head with an elastic band.

Several times throughout the day, well-run teams of employees, mostly Asian, cleaned the esplanade with jets of water.

As the hour for prayer arrived, a young woman sat at a table in an ice cream shop and prayed, her hands crossed on her knees.

A few paces from the Kaaba, Egyptian pilgrim Fatiya Taha could not hide her joy.

At 67 the oldest in her group, she sat in her wheelchair in Islam’s most holy spot.

"I’ve been looking forward to this pilgrimage for four years," she said. — AFP

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Heavy rains kill five in India’s financial hub

Viet Nam News

MUMBAI —  At least five people were killed as heavy monsoon rain deluged India’s financial capital Mumbai, causing transport chaos and forcing schools and many offices to close on Wednesday.

The coastal city of more than 20 million people is the latest to be hit by floods that have ravaged South Asia this monsoon season, affecting millions of people across India, Nepal and Bangladesh and killing over 1,200.

Authorities in Mumbai said at least five people had died since the intense rainfall began on Tuesday, making roads impassable and briefly shutting the suburban rail network on which millions of commuters depend.

"Five people have died in the Mumbai floods. Four of them including two children died due to wall collapse in the slums and another person died due to electric shock," said Tanaji Kamble, a local government official.

Kamble said the rains had eased by Wednesday. "We are monitoring the safety situation across the city and things are returning to normal."

Cars were submerged and commuters waded through waist-deep water on Tuesday evening.

"I could not find any mode of transport and spent my night on the streets instead of trying to reach home," said 62-year-old Gangadin Gupta.

He said many people had been left stranded for much of the night until the rail network reopened early on Wednesday.

Valuables lost

Residents of Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest slums and home to more than a million people, said much of the low-lying area was under water.

"Most of the shanties and houses in Dharavi were submerged in water and we lost all our valuables," said Selvam Sathya, 45.

"All of us took refuge on the first floor of different buildings and the water only started receding this morning... I lost all my belongings in the flooding."

The transport chaos forced the city’s famed dabbawallahs, who take hundreds of thousands of hot lunches from commuters’ homes to offices every day, to cancel their delivery.

Many of the more than 5,000 dabbawallahs were left stranded in the city overnight, a spokesman for the Mumbai Dabbawallha Association told the Press Trust of India.

The flooding brought back memories of 2005 when around 950 millimetres of rain fell on Mumbai in just 24 hours, killing more than 1,000 people.

Electricity, water supply, communications networks and public transport were totally shut down during the 2005 catastrophe, which was blamed on unplanned development and poor drainage in the western city.

India, Nepal and Bangladesh all suffer frequent flooding during the monsoon rains which begin in June and last till September or October.

But the Red Cross has termed this year’s floods the worst for decades in some parts of the region.

It says entire communities have been cut off and many are short of food and clean water. — AFP

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North Korea says more missiles to come as UN condemns launch

SEOUL — North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has promised more missile flights over Japan, insisting his nation’s provocative launch was a mere "curtain-raiser", in the face of UN condemnation and US warnings of severe repercussions.

The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile that Pyongyang unleashed on Tuesday represented a major escalation in the face of tensions over its weapons programmes.

In recent weeks it has threatened to send a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam, while President Donald Trump has warned of raining "fire and fury" on the North.

After the latest launch Trump said that "all options" were on the table, reviving his implied threat of pre-emptive US military action just days after congratulating himself that Kim appeared to be "starting to respect us".

The UN Security Council -- which has already imposed seven sets of sanctions on Pyongyang -- said in a unanimous statement the North’s actions "are not just a threat to the region, but to all UN member states".

Both the North’s key ally China and Russia, which also has ties to it, backed the US-drafted declaration, but it will not immediately lead to new or tightened measures against Pyongyang.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party, on Wednesday carried more than 20 pictures of the launch near Pyongyang, one showing Kim smiling broadly at a desk with a map of the Northwest Pacific, surrounded by aides.

Another showed him gazing upwards as the missile rose into the air.

South Korea’s military said on Tuesday that it had travelled around 2,700 kilometres and reached a maximum altitude of 550 kilometres.

The official Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as saying that "more ballistic rocket launching drills with the Pacific as a target in the future" were necessary.

Tuesday’s launch was a "meaningful prelude to containing Guam, advanced base of invasion", he said, and a "curtain-raiser" for the North’s "resolute countermeasures" against ongoing US-South Korean military exercises which the North regards as a rehearsal for invasion.

Wednesday’s statement was the first time the North has acknowledged sending a missile over Japan’s main islands. Two of its rockets previously did so, in 1998 and 2009, but on both occasions it claimed they were space launch vehicles.

Tuesday’s missile overflight triggered consternation in world capitals and on the ground, with sirens blaring out and text message alerts being sent in Japan warning people to take cover.

"Threatening and destabilising actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world," Trump said in a White House statement. "All options are on the table."

At the UN Security Council emergency meeting Washington’s Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that "enough is enough" and that tough action had to be taken.

"It’s unacceptable," Haley said. "They have violated every single UN Security Council resolution that we’ve had, and so I think something serious has to happen."

The North last month carried out its first two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile, apparently bringing much of the US mainland into range, but the Pentagon said Tuesday’s launch was judged not to have represented a threat.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was nevertheless visibly unsettled, dubbing the launch an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat." — AFP

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Trump praises Texans on trip to Harvey disaster zone

Viet Nam News. CORPUS CHRISTI, United States. President Donald Trump toured the Harvey disaster zone in Texas on Tuesday as he sought to project an image of leadership in America’s first big natural disaster since he took office, as the battered US Gulf Coast girded for another hit from the huge storm. Four days after Harvey slammed onshore as a Category Four hurricane, turning roads into rivers and neighborhoods into lakes in America’s fourth-largest city, emergency crews still struggled to reach hundreds of stranded people in a massive round-the-clock rescue operation.

Trump praises Texans on trip to Harvey disaster zone

Houston races to rescue flood victims before storm’s return

Viet Nam News

HOUSTON — Rescue teams in boats, trucks and helicopters scrambled on Monday to reach hundreds of Texans marooned on flooded streets in and around the city of Houston before monster storm Harvey returns.

US President Donald Trump promised that the federal government would be on hand to help Texas along the "long and difficult road to recovery" from the historic storm.

The medical examiner’s office for Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, confirmed six deaths since Sunday "potentially tied to Hurricane Harvey." Three people were previously known to have died as a result of the storm.

But officials also warned that the danger has not yet passed, with more families still stranded or packed into emergency shelters and the tropical storm once more gathering strength on the Gulf coast.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said more than 8,000 people had been brought, soaking and desperate to shelters in America’s fourth largest city, and defended the decision not to evacuate before Harvey struck at the weekend.

"Search and rescue, that’s the number one emphasis, the number one priority for the rest of the day," he said, recalling that around 100 people had died the last time officials tried to empty the city of more than six million.

The 911 emergency line has received more than 75,000 calls, but city officials urged residents facing life-threatening storm water floods to remain on the line and trust that help will come.

Houston fire chief Samuel Pena urged patience, promising: "We fully recognise there are many other people out there in distress situations and we intend to get to every one of them."

Coast Guard commander Vice Admiral Karl Shultz told CNN that he had 18 helicopters in Houston, and weather permitting about 12 in the air at any one time, alongside those of the National Guard.

"If you can get to your roof, wave a towel. Leave a marking on the roof so helicopter crews can see you," he said, describing the volume of emergency calls as "staggering."

Dams opened

Harvey hit Texas on Friday as a Category Four hurricane, tearing down homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast before dumping an "unprecedented" nine trillion gallons of rainfall inland.

"It’s the biggest ever, they are saying it is the biggest, it’s historic," Trump said, at a White House press conference. He is due to visit Texas on Tuesday to survey rescue efforts and may return to Texas and Louisiana at the end of the week.

The Texas bayou and coastal prairie rapidly flooded, but the region’s sprawling cities – where drainage is slower – were worst hit.

Highways were swamped and street after street of housing rapidly rendered uninhabitable, with power lines cut and dams overflowing.

The US Army Corps of Engineers began to open the Addicks and Barker dams – under pressure from what the agency has dubbed a "thousand-year flood event" – to prevent a catastrophe on the outskirts of Houston.

Latitia Rodriguez was rescued along with her husband, children and grandchildren by the Williamson County police department, negotiating the flooded Route 90 in boats.

"We have to evacuate. We have too many kids. So we had to save our babies," she said. "There’s a lot of people over there. We would like to help everybody but we can’t. We have our own kids."

Meanwhile, the disaster is far from over: Harvey has turned back on itself and is hovering on the Gulf Coast, sucking up more rain and threatening a new landfall on Wednesday. And, after the storm, will come clean-up and recovery.

"We actually anticipate that as many as a half-a-million people in Texas will be eligible for and applying for financial disaster assistance," Vice President Mike Pence told KHOU Radio in Houston.

"We know it’s far from over. We know there’s more rain coming. The flood waters will likely continue to rise," he warned.

Trump – facing the first major natural disaster of his presidency – has also declared a state of emergency in neighboring Louisiana, next in line for a downpour.

Roads completely submerged

While the disaster response is now focused on the huge city of Houston, centre of a fast-growing but loosely-planned urban area, many of those living in smaller communities by the coast were also driven from their homes.

Robert Frazier, a 54-year-old foreman mechanic, left his home in La Porte, south of Houston, with his housewife Judy on Sunday morning and made it as far as a motel in Hankamer on the road towards Louisiana and still in Harvey’s path.

"We’re trapped," Frazier said, speaking after he had tried to return home for some of his abandoned possessions, but finding the highway cut.

"I haven’t been through nothing like this."

His wife Judy said she could only pray the rain would stop, after leaving home with just two sets of clothes, their medicine and their dog.

Beyond anything experienced

The National Weather Service said that between June 1 and Sunday, Houston had received 117 centimetres of rain – almost as much as it would expect in a year.

"The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before," it said.

Boats also were being deployed, but more were needed. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett appealed to residents to use their own vessels.

While many citizens rushed to help their neighbors, some were less helpful, and Houston police chief Art Acevedo warned that his officers were on the lookout for looters. — AFP

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2018 start for Russia-backed nuclear plant work: Hungary

BUDAPEST  Work on the Russian-financed expansion of a Hungarian nuclear plant will begin in January, Hungary’s foreign minister said on Monday after talks in Budapest between Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Building work on two new reactors at the Paks facility outside Budapest had been delayed as the EU examined the project’s legality, but "now nothing can stop the construction," said Peter Szijjarto according to the Hungarian news agency MTI.

After closed-doors talks between Orban and Putin on the sidelines of the World Judo Championships in Budapest, Szijjarto told reporters that work will begin in January.

The 10 billion euros (US$12 billion) expansion will be mostly carried out by Moscow’s state-owned Rosatom and is to be financed largely with a Russian loan according to a deal signed by the two leaders in 2014.

The two 1,200 megawatt reactors at the plant in Paks, 100 kilometres south of Budapest, will more than double its capacity.

The plant is the sole nuclear facility in the EU member, and currently provides around 40 per cent of its electricity needs.

Visiting Orban in Budapest for the second time this year, Putin, also an honorary president of the International Judo Federation, has hailed Hungary, which is also heavily dependent on Russian gas, as an "important and reliable partner for Russia in Europe".

The project has been criticised by anti-nuclear Austria which neighbours Hungary and has threatened to take the case to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

The European Commission approved the Paks expansion project last March after judging that it met EU rules on state aid "on the basis of commitments made by Hungary to limit distortions of competition".

Brussels also dropped an infringement case after Hungary awarded the contract to Rosatom without holding an open tender.

EU authorities were under pressure to take a close look at the deal amid fears the Kremlin was using it to meddle further with the bloc’s sensitive energy sector.

The Hungarian parliament voted to keep the details of the deal secret for 30 years, something Orban’s ruling Fidesz party said was needed for "national security reasons" but which critics said could shield corruption. — AFP

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San Diego battles deadly Hepatitis A outbreak

LOS ANGELES — A record outbreak of Hepatitis A has killed 14 people and put scores in hospital in San Diego, hitting mostly homeless and patients using intravenous drugs.

The latest data from San Diego County in California show that more than 350 cases have been diagnosed since the beginning of the year. Most of those have taken been identified since July, and 264 people have needed care in hospital.

"As hepatitis A goes, the number of deaths is greater than in other large outbreaks reported to CDC, though not all outbreaks are reported to CDC," a spokeswoman for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Another outbreak in 2003 linked to green onions in Pennsylvania caused three deaths and sent 124 people to hospital.

Authorities have not yet identified the cause of the latest outbreak.

But they say it is being spread person-to-person and through contact with a fecally contaminated environment.

This puts homeless people especially at risk since they do not have regular access to sanitary facilities and clean water to wash their hands, state health authorities noted. — AFP

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Japan PM, Trump agree to hike pressure on N. Korea: Abe

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that he and US President Donald Trump agreed to hike pressure on North Korea after it launched a ballistic missile over Japan, in Pyongyang’s most serious provocation in years.

"We must immediately hold an emergency meeting at the United Nations, and further strengthen pressure against North Korea," Abe told reporters after a 40-minute phone call with Trump.

"Increasing pressure – Japan and the United States are in complete agreement about this," Abe added, without elaborating on proposed measures.

He added that Trump – who has been embroiled in an escalating war of words with Pyongyang over its weapons development – said Washington would stand by its ally Japan.

"President Trump made a very strong commitment that the United States is with Japan 100 per cent," Abe quoted Trump as saying.

"We will cooperate among Japan, the US and South Korea. We will also reach out to China, Russia and the international community and apply strong pressure on North Korea to change their policy."

Last week, Japan said it would impose fresh sanctions on North Korea by freezing the assets of Chinese and Namibian firms doing business with the nuclear-armed state.

The move against a half dozen organisations and a couple of individuals comes days after Washington expanded its own punitive measures against Chinese and Russian firms, as well as people linked to Pyongyang over its weapons development.

The sanctions are aimed at disrupting the flow of cash funding North Korean weapons programmes, which are in violation of United Nations resolutions. — AFP

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Mexico helped push vaquita porpoise to brink of extinction: activists

MEXICO CITY — Mexican fishing authorities have boycotted the effort to save the critically endangered vaquita marina porpoise, environmentalists said on Monday, calling them "accomplices" in the near-extinction of the world’s smallest porpoise.

While Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has embarked on a much-vaunted campaign to save the estimated 30 vaquitas that remain – winning the backing of Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and billionaire Carlos Slim – the effort is too little, too late, said Greenpeace and other groups.

Worse, fishing authorities in Pena Nieto’s own government have contributed to the vaquita’s demise, they told a press conference.

The National Aquaculture and Fishing Committee (Conapesca) "has been an accomplice within the government in pushing the vaquita to the near-imminent extinction it faces today," said the head of Greenpeace Mexico, Miguel Rivas.

The groups accuse Conapesca of failing to carry out inspections to detect illegal fishing, raising the limit of fish that boats are allowed to bring in and increasing the number of boats authorized to fish in vulnerable areas.

The vaquita is found only in the Gulf of California, which is also the source of half of Mexico’s fisheries production.

It has been nearly wiped out by gillnets used to fish for another species, the totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China and can fetch $20,000 per kilogramme.

In June, Mexico announced a series of measures to protect the vaquita, including a permanent ban on gillnet fishing in its habitat.

The government has also launched an unusual program to use dolphins trained by the US Navy to find vaquitas so they can be ushered into a $4-million marine reserve.

Activists criticised what they called major shortcomings in those efforts, and said fishing authorities were only concerned with boosting fisheries output.

"The fishing authorities in this country are hoping the vaquita will disappear so they can say goodbye to the problem once and for all," said biologist Maria Elena Sanchez of the environmental group Teyeliz.

Conapesca officials were not immediately available to comment. — AFP

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Colombia govt, rebel ELN eye ceasefire before pope visit

Colombia’s government chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo (R) shakes hands with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno (C) as the National Liberation Army rebel group’s chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, looks on in Quito on August 28, 2017. — AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

QUITO  The Colombian government and the country’s last active rebel force, the ELN, said on Monday they hope to agree on a ceasefire before Pope Francis’s visit to the nation next week.

"We are determined to rise to the occasion of the Holy Father’s visit and take a big step towards peace by sounding out the possibility of agreeing a temporary bilateral ceasefire," said Juan Camilo Restrepo, the government’s chief negotiator at peace talks.

He spoke during an appearance by delegates from both sides in the Ecuadoran capital Quito, where they are holding peace negotiations.

National Liberation Army (ELN) negotiator Pablo Beltran added that he hoped the ceasefire would be secured Friday.

Pope Francis visits Colombia from September 6 to 10.

Colombia’s biggest rebel force, the FARC, disarmed last month under a peace deal with the government to end more than half a century of civil conflict.

President Juan Manuel Santos now wants a deal with the ELN to seal a "complete peace." — AFP 

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African, EU leaders meet for migration summit

PARIS — Leaders from seven African and European countries meet in Paris on Monday for a mini-summit to discuss how to ease the EU’s migrant crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron has invited his counterparts from Niger and Chad as well as the head of the Libyan unity government Fayez al-Sarraj, whose countries lie on the main transit route for migrants heading to Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish and Italian prime ministers Mariano Rajoy and Paulo Gentiloni, and Europe’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, will join the talks.

European nations are keen to offer development aid and funding to their African partners in return for help in stemming the flow of economic migrants and asylum seekers.

A total of 125,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean by boat this year, according to UN figures, with the vast majority arriving in Italy before travelling on to other EU members. An estimated 2,400 have died en route.

France is seeking improved border controls and patrolling of the waters around Libya -- complicated by the country’s competing governments and state of lawlessness -- as well as development aid to create jobs in Africa.

"The fight against illegal migration is being led on two fronts: development and security," said a source in the French presidency, asking not to be named.

In July, Macron also proposed -- without consulting his allies -- the creation of so-called "hotspots" in Africa where asylum seekers fleeing persecution or war could lodge a request to travel to the EU.

This would mean they would not need to make the perilous trip across the Mediterranean with the help of people traffickers, who frequently pack too many people onto flimsy boats and often mistreat the migrants.

Sharp fall in crossings

The meeting might also provide information on why arrivals have plummeted in recent weeks from Libya, the main route into Europe since a separate pathway from Turkey into Greece was shut down in 2016.

The numbers arriving in Italy have fallen by around 50 per cent in July and August compared with last year, leaving experts scrambling for an answer.

Improved action by the Libyan coastguard, tougher border controls in transit countries inland, as well as Libyan militias joining efforts to stop boats leaving have all been touted as possible reasons.

The president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, will tell his European counterparts that the number of migrants passing through the transit town of Agadez in his country has fallen by 80 per cent thanks to government efforts, a source in his team said.

Libya has also sought to restrict the work of NGOs operating rescue boats in the Mediterranean which pick up migrants stranded on inflatable dinghies or other unseaworthy crafts.

Italy has also sought to impose a code of conduct on the NGOs, which face accusations from some critics that their operations have encouraged migrants to attempt the crossing, knowing that they will be picked up in an emergency.

The code has been signed by five out of seven NGOs with rescue ships -- only the French organisation Doctors Without Borders and Germany’s Sea-Watch have refused out of principle.

The code is set to be approved by all the countries present on Monday, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

After the talks about immigration during the day, the European leaders are set to meet together in the evening to discuss reforming the EU and joint efforts to prevent terror attacks. — AFP

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Brexit talks face ’very big gap’ as new round begins

BRUSSELS — Britain and the EU kick off a third round of Brexit talks Monday, with London impatient to agree its future relationship with the bloc while Brussels insists the divorce settlement comes first.

The European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will meet his British counterpart David Davis late afternoon in Brussels for a first exchange, followed by three days of discussions and a joint press conference.

The EU says there has to be "sufficient progress" in three key areas -- EU citizen rights, Northern Ireland’s border and the exit bill -- before it can consider London’s demand for talks on future ties in October.

Britain says it would be best to negotiate the two in parallel and that settling trade issues may even help with other problems such as the future EU-UK border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

That is a complete no-go for Brussels which made no secret of the fact that it expects little progress in bridging what officials last week called a "very big gap".

They also blamed Britain for a "lack of substance" despite a flurry of position papers they said were strong on aspiration but short on detail.

Barnier last week listed on Twitter the EU’s own negotiating documents, noting: "EU positions clear and transparent since day one."

’Get down to work’

Davis said Monday the British papers were "products of the hard work and detailed thinking that has been going on behind the scenes and should form the basis of what I hope will be a constructive week of talks".

"We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get down to work once more," he added.

Both sides have repeatedly warned that the clock is ticking down to the March 2019 Brexit deadline and that they are the ones doing their best to make progress.

The situation is complicated by sharp divisions within Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government after a June election gamble backfired and she lost her parliamentary majority.

May remains in office thanks to a deal with Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party which views the Republic with deep suspicion.

EU officials warned last week that the hard-won Northern Ireland peace process could not be used as a bargaining chip.

As for London’s suggestion that technology could help prevent the border becoming a barrier to trade and the peace process, that was just "a lot of magical thinking," one EU official said.

ECJ guards citizens’ rights

In another position paper, Britain said the European Court of Justice might continue to have an indirect influence, softening its position that the EU’s top court would not have any say in the country at all.

But again this was not enough, EU officials said.

The rights of more than three million EU citizens in Britain and one million Britons in Europe arose from EU law which is the remit of the ECJ, they added.

"There is no other possibility," one official said.

As for Britain’s divorce settlement -- estimated at up to 100 billion euros in Brussels but much less at 40 billion according to reports in London -- the EU officials said the talks were not about fixing a number but about agreeing how to work out the bill.

"We have to have a methodology sufficiently detailed so that commitments made to various beneficiaries of the EU budget will be honoured," one of the EU officials said.

In what the European Commission insisted was "absolutely nothing extraordinary," former British premier Tony Blair is due to meet Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday as the Brexit talks wind up.

The British press made much of the visit as Blair is staunchly pro-EU and anti-Brexit, and has campaigned for a second referendum in the hope of reversing the June 2016 outcome. — AFP

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Houston floods spark chaos, much more rain to come

Viet Nam News

HOUSTON — Massive flooding unleashed by deadly monster storm Harvey left Houston -- the fourth-largest city in the United States -- increasingly isolated Sunday as its airports and highways shut down and residents were rescued from their inundated homes by boat.

The city’s two main airports suspended all commercial flights and two hospitals were forced to evacuate patients. A local television station also was knocked off the air.

At least three people have been killed so far, with reports of other fatalities still unconfirmed. As night fell, dramatic rescues -- sometimes by volunteers with their own boats -- were still taking place.

The National Hurricane Center called the flooding "unprecedented" and said the storm, which crashed ashore late Friday as a huge Category 4 hurricane, would move into the Gulf before doubling back midweek, bringing even more rain.

President Donald Trump, who had said he did not want to disrupt emergency efforts with a visit, is planning to head to the disaster zone on Tuesday, the White House announced.

Rising waters from Harvey inundated roads throughout the Houston area, affecting every major freeway and hamstringing efforts to move people to safety.

"It’s crazy to see the roads you’re driving on every day just completely under water," Houston resident John Travis said.

Another city resident, Brit Dreger, said: "It doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere for a while."

Overwhelmed emergency services warned residents to head for high ground or climb onto rooftops -- not into attics -- so they could be seen by rescue helicopters. More than 2,000 rescues had been made so far.

The local ABC affiliate showed the helicopter rescue of a man and his six-year-son -- both named Jeremiah -- from the second floor of their home.

Each only had the clothes on their back and a backpack. 

"This is all we got," the father said. "We thank God. We thank God."

Emergency 911 operators in Houston received 56,000 calls in a 15-hour span -- seven times more than in a usual full day.

"We are going on fumes & our hearts ache for community we serve, but we will not stop!" said Houston police chief Art Acevedo.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned the operation was far from over, given the foreboding forecasts.

"The number of evacuees is increasing. The number in harm’s way will increase also with the rain that is forecast to come," Abbott said, adding that the storm had already inflicted billions of dollars in damage. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner dismissed the idea that evacuations should have been ordered sooner.

"You issue an evacuation order and put everybody on the highway -- you really are asking for a major calamity," Turner told reporters.

Houston proper has a population of 2.3 million people, but the greater metropolitan area has more than six million.

"Life and safety’

Trump, who spent the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, had said he would visit the Lone Star State as soon as he could "without causing disruption."

"The focus must be on life and safety," he said in a series of tweets about the disaster, his first major domestic challenge since taking office in January.

Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the visit would take place Tuesday.

At least three deaths have been blamed on Harvey, which has spawned tornadoes and lashed east and central Texas with torrential rains.

In Houston, a woman drowned when she left a car which had stalled in high water, and another man was found dead in a flooded Wal-Mart parking lot in the Galveston area, officials said.

On Saturday local officials said that one person was killed when a house caught fire in the Rockport area, one of the places hardest hit.

"The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before," the National Weather Service said on Twitter.

Houston opened community centers to shelter people forced out of their homes, but the mayor appealed to residents to stay put and not call the 911 emergency line unless they faced a life-threatening situation.

"Even if there’s a lull today, don’t assume the storm is over," Turner said.

’I might have left sooner’

The National Weather Service said more than 60 centimetres of rain fell in Houston and nearby Galveston in a 24-hour period. Another 20 inches were expected.

Flooding was expected to worsen as Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit the United States mainland since 2005, lingers over the area.

Harvey ripped off roofs, flipped mobile homes and left hundreds of thousands of people in the dark on the Gulf Coast, home to some of the country’s most important oil refineries.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Hobby International, the city’s two airports, also stopped all commercial flights.

Thousands of National Guard troops joined local police and emergency workers to help with rescues in inundated areas of the city.

Boats also were being deployed, but more were needed -- Harris County Judge Ed Emmett appealed to residents to use their own vessels.

One volunteer rescuer told KTRK TV: "Basically, there were a lot of people out here and not enough boats."

’Landmark’ disaster

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said there should be no illusions about the long-term impact.

"This disaster will be a landmark event," FEMA director Brock Long told CNN, adding it would take "years" to recover.

Coastal Texas is home to a large number of oil refineries and a number of major ports.

ExxonMobil said Sunday it had closed its massive Baytown refining complex -- the second-largest in the country.

US authorities said about 22 per cent of crude production in the Gulf of Mexico, accounting for more than 375,000 barrels a day, was shut down.

But Abbott said the oil industry was well prepared.

"They have the ability to ratchet up back up there quickly," he said on Fox News Sunday, predicting a "one- or two-week downturn." — AFP

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North Korea fires short-range missiles: US military

Viet Nam News

SEOUL — North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles Saturday, the US military said.

The missile launches come as tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops take part in joint military drills in the South. Two of the missiles failed in flight and the third blew up "almost immediately", said a spokesman for US Pacific Command.

None of the missiles, which were launched near Kittaeryong, had posed a threat to either North America or the US Pacific territory of Guam, the spokesman said.

"The first and third missiles... failed in flight. The second missile launch... appears to have blown up almost immediately," said the spokesman, Commander Dave Benham, adding that the launches happened over a span of 30 minutes.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said US President Donald Trump was aware of the launches.

"In regards to activity in North Korea tonight, the president has been briefed and we are monitoring the situation," she said.

The launches came as North Korea state media reported that leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw a military exercise simulating a special forces assault on South Korean border islands involving aircraft, "multiple-missile launchers" and howitzers.

Shells hit islands standing in for South Korea’s Paekryong and Taeyonphyong islands while special forces landed in rubber boats or parachuted in and "wiped out the desperate enemy with various combat methods", the Korean Central News Agency said.

"Kim Jong-Un expressed great satisfaction over the successful target-striking contest," it said.

Advances in missile technology 

South Korea’s defence ministry said "unidentified projectiles", fired at 6:49am (2149 GMT Friday), flew some 250km towards the Sea of Japan.

The North’s move was immediately reported to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

"The military is keeping a tight surveillance over the North to cope with further provocations," the ministry added.

Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, told reporters in Tokyo Saturday morning: "We confirmed that no ballistic missiles have fallen onto our country’s territory or EEZ (exclusive economic zone)."

"We confirmed there was no direct impact on our country’s security. Our prime minister told us to remain on high alert and do our best to respond to any situations in order to protect our people’s lives and property."

The North tends to carry out test-firing of missiles or other projectiles -- including those from long-range multiple rocket launchers -- in response to the US-South Korea joint military exercises.

The "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" war games are a largely computer-simulated exercise that runs for two weeks in the South.

In recent weeks the North has threatened to fire a salvo of missiles toward the US Pacific territory of Guam, but has since backed away from the plan and tensions have eased. — AFP

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Brussels knifeman shot after ’terrorist’ attack on soldiers

Viet Nam News

BRUSSELS — A knife-wielding man was shot dead on Friday after wounding a soldier in the centre of Brussels, in what Belgian authorities called a "terrorist attack".

The man, who prosecutors said yelled "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) during the assault, was shot by soldiers on a street in the city which has been on high alert since terrorist attacks on its metro and airport last year.

"We believe that it is a terrorist attack," said a prosecutors’ office spokeswoman, who added the attacker "is dead".

Belgian media reported that the assailant was of Somali origin and about 30 years old.

The same evening, in London two police officers were slightly injured arresting a man with a large knife outside Buckingham Palace but there were no immediate indications of a terror link.

The incidents come after attacks claimed by the Islamic State group in Spain last week killed 15 people and a knifeman’s stabbing spree in Finland left two dead and eight wounded.

One of the two soldiers targeted in Brussels was "slightly" wounded, according to federal prosecutors, who have opened a terror probe of the attack.

"All our support for our military," tweeted Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. "Our security services remain attentive, we are monitoring the situation closely with the Crisis Center," he added.

City mayor Philippe Close told reporters the incident was the work of a "lone individual".

"I heard yelling and straight away two shots," a witness named Yohan said, who did not wish to give his surname.

As he approached, he said he saw "a soldier bleeding from his hand and a man on the ground," who had a beard and was wearing a hood.

The attack took place shortly after 8:00pm (18:00 GMT) on a boulevard in the centre of Brussels, near the Grand Place central square, one of the "sensitive" areas of the capital where armed soldiers patrol because of the terrorist threat in Belgium.

Troops on streets 

Soldiers have been deployed at railway stations and landmark buildings in Brussels since the Paris terror attacks in 2015, when a link to the Belgian capital was first established.

Their presence has been reinforced since suicide bombers struck Zavantem Airport and the Maalbeek metro station near the EU quarter of Brussels in March 2016, killing 32 people and wounding hundreds more.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by the same Brussels-based cell behind the November 2015 suicide bombings and shootings in Paris which left 130 dead.

In June a man who tried to bomb a Brussels train station was shot dead by a soldier.

Belgian authorities identified the man in that incident as a 36-year-old Moroccan national with the initials O.Z., while local media named him as Oussama Zariouh.

No one was injured in the foiled attack at Brussels Central station but officials said the consequences could have been severe had the bomb, full of nails and gas canisters, detonated properly.

The man shouted "Allahu Akbar" during the attack and prosecutors said he had sympathies for IS.

Police found explosive materials in a June raid on the home of the suspect in Molenbeek, a Brussels district which has been linked to recent deadly terror  lots in France and Belgium.

Belgian soldiers and police have repeatedly been the target of attacks in recent months.

In August last year, an Algerian living in Belgium attacked two policemen in front of the police station in Charleroi shouting "Allah Akbar" and wounding them in the face and neck before he was killed. IS claimed responsibility for that attack.

A month later, two policemen were stabbed in Molenbeek but without injury due to their bullet-proof vests.

The attacker was of Maghrebian origin but without any clear link to the Islamist movement, according to the Brussels prosecutor’s office.

In October, two police officers were wounded by a knife-wielding man in Schaerbeek. — AFP

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Two Brazil boat wrecks in two days leave 39 dead

Viet Nam News. SALVADOR, Brazil. Two Brazilian ferry wrecks in as many days left at least 39 people dead, authorities said on Thursday, as rescuers searched for several more who were still missing. "We deeply regret the loss of tens of lives in the boat accidents in Para and Bahia," two states in the north of the country, President Michel Temer said on Twitter. Regional authorities in north-central Para state said 21 people were confirmed dead so far after a boat sank on the Xingu river late on Tuesday. Two Brazil boat wrecks in two days leave 39 dead

Two Brazil boat wrecks in two days leave 39 dead

Palestinians need Trump two-state pledge before peace: officials

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories  Donald Trump’s team must commit to a two-state solution and oppose Israeli settlement construction before the US president’s peace push can move forward, Palestinian officials said on Wednesday.

Their comments came ahead of talks on Thursday with Trump aides, including special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt and the president’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner.

The visit for meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders comes with many analysts expressing little hope that major progress can be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace for now.

Trump’s aides have been ferrying between leaders from the two sides in recent months in attempts to restart direct talks, with the aim of achieving what the US president has called the "ultimate deal".

Trump himself visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in May.

But Palestinian officials have become increasingly frustrated with the administration and pessimistic about chances of a breakthrough.

President Mahmud Abbas reportedly told Israeli leftwing politicians recently that despite more than 20 meetings with US officials he was still unclear what Trump’s strategy was.

Ahmed Majdalani, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation which Abbas heads, said they were demanding "a clear and frank answer on the position of the administration on the two-state solution and settlements".

"Without a clear American commitment to the two-state solution and stopping settlements and ending the occupation, we don’t expect much from this administration."

A US diplomatic source told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday night that Trump wanted discussions "to focus on the transition to substantive... peace talks, the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there, and the economic steps that can be taken".

The president acknowledges that "there are likely to be a lot of ups and downs on the way to peace and making a peace deal will take time", but he "remains optimistic that progress toward a deal can be achieved", he said.

Kushner and other US officials met on Tuesday evening with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

The kingdom is a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the palace said in a statement that Abdullah, Kushner and Greenblatt had stressed the need to start "serious and effective peace negotiations" on the "basis of the two-state solution".

Previous US governments have committed to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, but Trump broke with longstanding US policy in February by saying he would be happy with either a one-state or two-state solution if the parties were happy. — AFP

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At least 10 die in Brazil boat wreck: authorities

SAO PAULO — At least 10 people have been confirmed dead and dozens were feared missing in northern Brazil after a boat sank overnight in the Amazon basin, the local government said on Wednesday. Rescuers rushed to the wreck on the Xingu river in northern Para state, which borders a long section of the Amazon river and contains several large tributaries. As of Wednesday evening, only 19 people had been rescued alive, according to the G1 news site.

At least 10 die in Brazil boat wreck: authorities

Dutch probe Spanish van with gas canisters after terror tip

Viet Nam News. ROTTERDAM, Netherlands. Dutch police are investigating possible terror links after arresting a Spaniard driving a van containing gas canisters close to a rock concert which was abruptly cancelled over fears of an attack. The man "was arrested and taken to the police station," Rotterdam police said in a Tweet late Wednesday, following a tip-off from Spanish authorities. The arrest came little under a week after twin vehicle attacks in Spain killed 15 people, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.

Dutch probe Spanish van with gas canisters after terror tip

France's Macron sets sights on EU cheap labour rule

Viet Nam News. SALZBURG, Austri. The EU is a "real step" closer to overhauling a controversial rule on detached workers, after talks with leaders from eastern and central Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday. The so-called Posted Workers Directive allows firms to send temporary workers from low-wage countries to other member states without paying local social charges. The regulation has come under fire from rich nations like France whose president has described it as a "betrayal of the European spirit". Macron embarked on Wednesday on a three-day diplomatic blitz through Austria, Romania and Bulgaria to drum up support for his ambitious plan to reform the directive at a summit in October.

France's Macron sets sights on EU cheap labour rule

Descendants Of The Sun star Song Joong Ki in town to promote latest movie The Battleship Island

SINGAPORE Descendants of the Sun - Ahead of his nuptials with actress Song Hye Kyo, South Korean actor Song Joong Ki is in town on Tuesday (Aug 8) to promote the new war flick The Battleship Island. He is joined by director Ryoo Seung Wan and his co-stars Hwang Jung Min and So Ji Sub. The cast held a press conference at noon, which will be followed by a public meet-and-greet at Suntec City at 7pm. The Battleship Island is a highly anticipated movie where Song plays a special agent sent on a mission to a forced labour camp on Japan's Hashima Island, known as Battleship Island, during World War II.

Descendants Of The Sun star Song Joong Ki in town to promote latest movie The Battleship Island
Descendants Of The Sun star Song Joong Ki in town to promote latest movie The Battleship Island

How to become a good tourist business employees ?

How to become a good travel agent ? Can say the business staff is the bridge between customers and businesses. People doing moderate business interests of his company (selling products/services with the right profitable price), just have to take care of the interests of the client (purchase products at affordable price, helping them use the product/service most effectively and bring the highest benefit to the client). Travel business has three main areas: inbound (inbound tourism), outbound (foreign travel) and inland. Every field needs the skills and knowledge. But again, to be successful in the business travel you need to do the following:

How to become a good tourist business employees ?

Kim orders more production of ICBMs: state media

SEOUL — North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un has ordered more production of rocket engines and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) nosecones, Pyongyang state media said on Wednesday. Tensions over the North's weapons programmes have mounted this year and it carried out two ICBM tests last month, overseen by Kim, that apparently brought most of the United States within range. A series of threats followed from both sides, and while the rhetoric has since eased, the US and South Korea this week kicked off their annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian military drills, which the North always condemns as dress rehearsals for invasion.

Some 30,000 civilians trapped by fighting in Tal Afar: UN

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Some 30,000 civilians are trapped by fighting in Tal Afar, according to the United Nations, a city Iraqi forces are working to take back from the Islamic State group. "Humanitarian assistance is being provided at assembly points to the south and east of Tal Afar town, with more than 300 people having passed through these points yesterday and receiving assistance," UN Secretary General Antonio

Trump arrives in Arizona to rally supporters

Viet Nam News. PHOENIX — President Donald Trump arrived in Arizona on Tuesday hoping to re-energise core supporters cooling to his crisis-riddled presidency and build momentum for a controversial border wall. Trump began the trip in Yuma by touring a US Border Patrol operations base, where he chatted with border agents. He then traveled to Phoenix for a raucous campaign-style rally in the evening. The rally -- which typically features a stem-winding Trump speech -- will be the first of its kind since he sparked outrage by equivocating in his condemnation of a deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump arrives in Arizona to rally supporters

Spain suspect says terror cell planned big attack on monuments

Viet Nam News

MADRID — A suspected member of the terror cell that unleashed carnage in Spain last week admitted to a judge on Tuesday that the jihadists had planned to hit monuments in an even bigger attack.

Mohamed Houli Chemlal, 21, said he knew of the plans two months ago, as he, and three other suspects, appeared in court for the first time following twin attacks that killed 15 people and wounded more than 100.

The four are the only surviving suspects from what was believed to be a 12-man terror cell that rammed a van into pedestrians on a tourist-packed boulevard in Barcelona on Thursday. Hours later, members of the the group carried out a similar attack in Cambrils further south.

After a full day hearing before the judge, Chemlal and another suspect, Driss Oukabir, 27, were remanded in custody and charged with terror related offences.

But the third man who owns the car used in Cambrils, Mohamed Aallaa, was granted conditional release, with the judge saying evidence against him was weak.

The judge gave himself three more days to decide if the fourth suspect, Salh El Karib -- who manages a store that allows people to make calls abroad -- should be remanded or released from custody.

Chemlal, a Spaniard, told the judge that the cell was planning "an attack on an even greater scale, targeting monuments" using bombs, a judicial source said.

He had known of the plans for an attack "at least two months ago", he added.

’Imam wanted to blow himself up’

Chemlal was injured in an accidental explosion at the group’s makeshift bomb factory on Wednesday evening. One of those killed in the blast was an imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is thought to have radicalised him and other young suspects.

He had only survived because he was out on the porch when the blast occurred, the judicial source said.

Chemlal, dressed in hospital pyjamas and with his right hand bandaged, was brought in after a doctor determined he was fit for interrogation, a court spokesman said.

While Chemlal told the judge the imam had wanted to blow himself up, two other suspects "blamed the imam for the plot while another two denied knowing him", the source added.

Earlier, police had revealed that the suspected jihadists had been preparing bombs for "one or more attacks in Barcelona".

Josep Lluis Trapero, head of police in Catalonia, said 120 gas canisters and traces of TATP components -- a homemade explosive that is a hallmark of the Islamic State group that claimed the attacks -- had been found at their bomb factory.

The accidental explosion in the house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona, forced the suspects to alter their plans.

The victims of the attacks were from three dozen countries, including Australia, China and the United States. — AFP

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Blazes merge into largest ever wildfire in westernmost Canada

A handout photo made available by NASA on Sunday shows an image captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite of smoke blanketing Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia on 18 July 2017. As smoke spread across the region, Environment Canada issued air quality advisories for large parts of British Columbia and Alberta provinces. — EPA/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

OTTAWA  Nineteen wildfires have merged into one massive forest fire that officials said on Tuesday was the largest ever recorded in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province.

The fires combined into a single blaze west of Quesnel that covers 467,000ha -- twice the size of the previous record holder that was more than 200,000ha in 1958.

The so-called Plateau wildfire stretches 130km from end to end, and despite efforts by hundreds of firefighters, it is expected to continue burning for some time.

"This is the largest fire in the province’s history," British Columbia chief wildfire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told a briefing.

Although it has not grown further over the past 24 hours, he added, "This fire has potential for growth."

A state of emergency has been in effect in British Columbia since July 7.

Most of the 46,000 people who were forced to flee have been able to return to their homes, but nearly 2,700 are still subject to evacuation orders.

As of Tuesday, there were 134 active fires in British Columbia. Some 3,900 firefighters and support crews, as well as 200 aircraft, have been mobilised.

Since April, more than 1.2 million hectares of British Columbia forests have been destroyed by fire.

"This is the highest area of land burned that we’ve ever had in the province’s history stretching back to 1912," when wildfire tracking began, Skrepnek said.  AFP

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Building Partnerships toward Financing the SDGs in ASEAN

Viet Nam News

Co-authored by:

H.E. Mr. Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community;

Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director of Asia-Pacific

Cicero, one of Rome’s most famous orators said: “We were born to unite with our fellow men, and to join in community with the human race.” The quotation perhaps best reflects Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, a goal that calls for partnerships.

Realizing the SDGs by 2030 is a daunting task by all accounts. But only through partnerships can we strengthen global effort toward eradicating poverty, and meeting the other 16 goals that cut across it.  

Nowhere is that case for partnerships more critical than in the ASEAN region, because the force of partnerships here will ripple across the region serving as a model for change across the world.

With over 600 million people, the ASEAN region is dynamic and diverse. It has made great progress across social, economic and environmental pillars encompassed in the 2030 Agenda.

Extreme poverty is falling rapidly across much of the region, from 17% of the region’s population in 2005 to 7% in 2013. Tremendous progress has been made in access to education, now above 95% at the primary level in all countries.

Yet even in countries where extreme poverty has fallen, there remain millions of working poor that are vulnerable to falling back into poverty. Besides the need of lifting the remaining 7% out of poverty, a common challenge in the region is the ‘missing middle’ where people experience rising incomes, but lack access to basic services. 

Climate change continues to be a cause of grave concern. It affects everyone, albeit not equally, and has the potential to derail progress on many of the SDGs. ASEAN is among the most disaster-prone regions in the world: four ASEAN countries are among the ten countries most exposed to natural hazards worldwide.

ASEAN also faces new challenges and mega trends, such as urbanization, rapid technological advances and emerging demographic shift, which will shape the region’s development landscape, and therefore, its future.

Given these challenges, and the fact that the Asian economy is the engine of progress well beyond borders, it’s clear that solutions developed here will have an impact across the world.  

It is estimated that it will take trillions of dollars and innovative solutions to achieve the SDGs. If we are to get there – even to raise the finances and to be innovative – we will require that lynchpin of all the goals: Partnerships.

That’s why ASEAN, China and the UNDP are partnering together, so that our combined expertise and experience will bring together key players to make a greater impact and try to achieve the goals faster.

ASEAN has the convening power to ensure leadership, commitment and vision are unified across the countries. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the ASEAN Community has worked continuously to bring regional perspectives into the international policy process and help its members implement global commitments. The ASEAN Community Vision 2025 is a great example of this and testament to the priority given by ASEAN Leaders to sustainable development in line with Agenda 2030.

ASEAN also sees the SDGs as crucial to its new – “Culture of Prevention” initiative aimed to address the root causes of violent extremism and conflicts. Such an approach is conducive to the development of a human resource base that supports the sustained economic growth of ASEAN.    

China, Asia’s economic powerhouse, plays a vital role in any discussion on financing in the region. It has contributed heavily to the progress in the ASEAN region, and its latest venture, the newly established Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, brings promise of even more progress for sustainable development.

Coupled with this, China also has valuable experiences to share with other countries and do so with the ASEAN community through strong knowledge exchange mechanisms.

UNDP has unparalleled expertise in accelerating sustainable development, working hand-in-hand with governments across the globe on how to address complex development challenges through innovation.

Through its network of country offices in the ASEAN region and across the world, UNDP has developed strong relationships and has the expertise to mobilize multi-stakeholder partnerships for action on a wide range of complex development issues.

For instance, in Indonesia, UNDP is working with the government and BAZNAS, the national zakat agency, to channel some of the zakat money to help achieve the SDGs. Zakat is a sort of religious tax, a Muslim person’s obligation to give a portion of their wealth to charity.

While ASEAN, China and UNDP are working together to meet the goals, we appreciate that our partnership is just one step in an important journey to bring prosperity and peace across the world and to protect our planet. To finance sustainable development, all actors – public, private, domestic and international – have a role to play.

We hope our partnership will be a catalyst for other collaboration and innovation across sectors, disciplines and borders, to ensure that we achieve the 2030 agenda.—VNS

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Spanish police shoot dead Barcelona attack fugitive

SUBIRATS — Spanish police shot dead on Monday Barcelona terror suspect Younes Abouyaaqoub, in a dramatic end to a massive manhunt for the Moroccan national who was wearing a fake suicide belt when he was killed. "We confirm the death of Younes Abouyaaqoub shot in Subirats," police in Catalonia tweeted. The Moroccan was the last remaining member of a 12-man cell suspected of plotting last week’s deadly vehicle rampages in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils that were claimed by the Islamic State organisation (IS) – its first in Spain.

US launches probe after second deadly Navy collision

WASHINGTON — The US Navy announced a fleet-wide global investigation on Monday after the latest in a series of accidents left another 10 sailors missing and five more injured.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson ordered commanders to set aside time, perhaps "one or two days" within a week, for crews to sit down together after the destroyer USS John McCain collided with a tanker off Singapore.

And this will be carried out in parallel to the start of "comprehensive review" of practices.

"As you know, this is the second collision in three months and the last of a series of incidents in the Pacific theater," Richardson said.

"This trend demands more forceful action. As such, I have directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world."

The admiral did not rule out some kind of outside interference or a cyber attack being behind the collision, but said he did not want to prejudge the inquiry and his broader remarks suggested a focus on "how we do business on the bridge."

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on a visit to Jordan, said Richardson’s "broader enquiry will look at all related accidents, incidents at sea, that sort of thing. He is going to look at all factors, not just the immediate one."

Ten US sailors were still missing after Monday’s collision between the McCain and the Alnic MC in the busy shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait, near the Strait of Malacca, which left a large hole in the USS John McCain’s hull.

It was the second accident involving an American warship since mid-June. A major search involving ships and aircraft from Singapore, Malaysia and the US was launched for the missing sailors.

The badly damaged destroyer limped into port in the southeast Asian city-state of Singapore under escort after the dramatic pre-dawn accident, which sent water flooding into the vessel.

’Full transparency’

The US Navy said there was "significant damage to the hull" of the John McCain, which led to flooding of crew sleeping areas, machinery and communications rooms.

"Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding," they said in a statement.

A helicopter took four of the injured to a Singapore hospital for treatment, while the fifth did not need further medical attention, the navy said.

The 505-foot (154-meter) vessel could still sail under its own power after the collision with the Liberian-flagged tanker, which was slightly bigger at 600 feet. Two other vessels escorted it into port.

The warship had been heading for a routine stop in Singapore after carrying out a "freedom of navigation operation" in the disputed South China Sea earlier in August around a reef in the Spratly Islands, sparking a furious response from Beijing.

The damaged vessel is named after US Senator John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both admirals in the US navy.

McCain himself welcomed the review.

"I agree with Admiral Richardson that more forceful action is urgently needed to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions," he said.

"I expect full transparency and accountability from the Navy leaders as they conduct the associated investigations and reviews."

’Are they doing too much?’

President Donald Trump tweeted: "Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway."

Ridzwan Rahmat, a naval expert at Jane’s by IHS Markit, said initial indications suggested the US warship may not have been obeying rules designed to separate maritime traffic passing through the Singapore Strait.

With the accident coming soon after the freedom of navigation operation, he told AFP that it raised questions "whether there is crew fatigue setting in, whether or not the tempo of operations by the US Navy in this region is getting too fast."

"Are they doing too much within this region with North Korea, and Japan and then now in the South China Sea?"

The tanker involved in the collision, which was used for transporting oil and chemicals and weighed over 30,000 gross tonnes, sustained some damage but no crew were injured, and Singapore said there was no oil pollution.

In June, seven American sailors died when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship in a busy channel not far from Yokosuka, a gateway to container ports in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama.

The dead sailors, aged 19 to 37, were found by divers in flooded sleeping berths a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the ship’s side.

A senior admiral announced last week that the commander of the destroyer and several other officers had been relieved of their duties aboard their ship over the incident.

Both the USS John McCain and USS Fitzgerald are part of the US Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka. — AFP

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Australian PM slams gay slurs as marriage vote looms

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday called for respectful debate on an upcoming same-sex marriage vote, saying he "deplores" the homophobic slurs aired by anonymous opponents of the reform. But Turnbull also warned cruel comments were often part of democratic discussion and could not be curtailed without impinging on free speech. "I deplore disrespectful, abusive language whether it is directed at young gay people or people of other religions or other races," Turnbull told Sydney commercial radio station 2DAY FM.

Total solar eclipse mesmerizes America

Viet Nam News

CHARLESTON — Sky-gazers stood transfixed across North America on Monday as the Sun vanished behind the Moon in a rare total eclipse that swept the continent coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.

Millions of die-hard eclipse chasers and amateur star watchers alike converged in cities along the path of totality, a 113km wide swath cutting through 14 US states, where the Moon briefly blocked out all light from the Sun.

"It was incredibly beautiful. I am moved to tears," said Heather Riser, a 54-year-old librarian from Virginia, sitting on a blanket in Charleston’s grassy Waterfront Park where thousands had gathered to watch.

Festivals, rooftop parties, weddings, camping trips and astronomy meet-ups were held nationwide for what was likely most heavily photographed and documented eclipse in modern times, thanks to the era of social media.

The blackest part of the shadow, known as totality because the Moon blocks all the Sun’s light from the Earth, began over Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 1716 GMT.

Crowds whooped and cheered at the first sign of darkness. Just inland, more than 100,000 people gathered at Madras, Oregon – typically a town of 7,000 – in what experts described as perfect viewing conditions.

"I’ve wanted to see one of these my whole life, since I’ve been studying astronomy, since I was a kid," said Christine Sapio, a science professor. "I thought I was prepared for it – I totally wasn’t."

"I was shaking, I was crying. I was just totally taken aback by just how beautiful it was."

In Los Angeles, "oohs and aahs" emanated from the crowd of thousands gathered at the Griffith Observatory in the hills above the city as the partial eclipse began.

Many had hiked to avoid massive traffic jams. Some watchers had fashioned their own pinhole projectors out of cardboard and scotch tape. Others watched while wearing special, dark solar eclipse glasses.

’Just awesome’

In downtown Charleston, South Carolina, the last point in the path of totality, crowds of tourists – some in special eclipse T-shirts and star-printed trousers – staked out prime spots on the bustling city’s storied waterfront.

Forecasts of thunderstorms threatened to block the view, but the eclipse managed to peek through the wispy clouds.

Onlookers in Waterfront Park screamed and cheered as the sky went dark in the middle of the afternoon, streetlamps came on, and a rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance.

"It was just awesome," said Dave Lichtenauer, age 63, a retired electrical engineer, describing the event as "partially spiritual".

"The crowd here was very into it," he added, remarking on the diversity and peacefulness of the masses.

"You don’t get many chances to experience that."

One bar had installed outdoor speakers blasting Bonnie Tyler’s mega-hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" – which she performed live on a cruise ship sailing through the path of totality.

The unofficial anthem for the celestial show soared to the top of the iTunes charts, outdoing even record-smashing pop song Despacito.

Cloudy weather and thunderstorms dashed viewers’ hopes of seeing the eclipse in some places, including Missouri.

Some of the clearest views were along the West Coast.

’Don’t look’

In the US capital, where 81 per cent totality occurred, Donald Trump watched the partial eclipse from the White House with his wife Melania and son Barron – although the president appeared to have missed the memo on eclipse do’s and don’ts.

At one point, Trump glanced skyward without protective eyewear – a big no-no, according to experts. "Don’t look," an aide shouted to him. He later donned glasses.

Eclipse watchers also flocked to Washington’s National Air and Space Museum, where solar telescopes were set up for the occasion.

In Mexico, where there was a partial eclipse, astronomy buffs set up telescopes fitted with special sun filters in parks and squares in various cities.

Eclipse watchers often describe being overcome by emotion as the sky goes black, birds return to their nests and the air chills.

"It is such an incredible, sensory-overload kind of event," eclipse-chaser Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist, said of the first total solar eclipse he saw in the United States back in 1970.

Scientists planned to study the eclipse to learn more about the super-hot corona, or outer atmosphere of the Sun.

"It is really exciting to see so many people interested in nature and science and this amazing phenomenon," said Kwayera Davis, an adjunct professor of astronomy at the College of Charleston.

’Sharing a cosmic event’

After weeks of turmoil triggered by the race-fueled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, some commentators welcomed the national feel-good moment afforded by the Great American Eclipse.

"The divided United States of America will unite today, sharing a cosmic event predicted by the methods and tools of science," tweeted the US astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson – who earlier advised people to "put down your smartphone and experience this one emotionally, psychologically, physically."

The CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, drew a more somber parallel between the day’s spectacle and the country’s challenges.

"Wish the moon wasn’t the only thing casting a shadow across the country. We got through one, we’ll get through the other," he tweeted. — AFP

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One dead, 9 missing after quake hits Italy holiday island

ROME — A 4.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian holiday island of Ischia on Monday, causing destruction that left at least one dead and nine missing at peak tourist season, authorities said.

Some 25 people were hurt in the quake and debris that reportedly fell from a church killed a woman in Casamicciola, which is in the island’s north.

The tremor hit at 8:57pm (1957 GMT) and came just days ahead of the first anniversary of the 6.0 magnitude quake that killed nearly 300 people in and around Amatrice central Italy.

"I was on the couch watching TV. Blackout, shaking, something fell on my head. I scream, my mother grabs me and we ran outside," one witness wrote on Twitter.

Rescuers have already managed to pull a couple alive from the debris, and emergency workers were trying to free three children.

The quake response has benefitted from extra responders who happened to already be on the island to fight the forest fires that have plagued Italy this summer.

Italian authorities first put Monday’s quake at 3.6, but subsequently revised it upward to 4.0 magnitude.

Firefighters said on Twitter that several buildings on the island were damaged or had collapsed. Ischia’s only hospital was also hit and had to be partially evacuated.

Restaurants were packed and many stores were still open when the shaking began, witnesses said on Twitter.

"A horrible experience, everything was shaking, plunged into darkness, houses were collapsing... a nightmare," a witness wrote on Twitter.

Ischia has been a frequent victim of earthquakes, with its worst dating back over a century. Estimated at a magnitude of 5.8, it killed over 2,000 people in July 1883.

Much of Italy’s land mass and some of its surrounding waters are prone to seismic activity with the highest risk concentrated along its mountainous central spine.

Italy straddles the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, making it vulnerable to seismic activity when they move. — AFP

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