Amazon countries sign forest pact
Seven Amazonian countries signed a pact to protect the world’s largest tropical forest via disaster response coordination and satellite monitoring, amid recent fires that torched thousands of square miles of the jungle.
The presidents of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, the vice president of Suriname and the natural resource minister of Guyana attended the one-day summit in the jungle city of Leticia in southern Colombia, Reuters reported.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro participated by video link, while his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, attended in person.
“This meeting will live on as a coordination mechanism for the presidents that share this treasure – the Amazon,” Colombian President Ivan Duque said at the signing, adding the countries will meet again at the United Nations Climate Change conference in December.
“Goodwill alone is not enough anymore,” Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra added.
The countries will create a natural disaster network so they can better cooperate in the face of events like large-scale fires, the pact said. The group will also work on reforestation initiatives, increase efforts to monitor deforestation activity via satellite, develop education initiatives and increase the role of indigenous communities in sustainable development, it added.
The countries also agreed to share information on activities like illegal mining that hurt conservation, the pact said.
The group will “work together to strengthen the programs and financial mechanisms, reiterate the commitments made by countries in these scenarios, mobilize public and private resources, including the multilateral banks, as appropriate, for the implementation of this pact.”
Bolsonaro said in his remarks during the meeting that the pact was an affirmation of each country’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno opened by singing “Padre,” a song by Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat about environmental destruction.
Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.
Some 60% of the forest is located in Brazil. The Amazon is also home to around 1 million people who are members of 500 indigenous groups.
Fires have also raged in recent weeks in Bolivia.
Bolsonaro initially accused nongovernmental organizations of setting the fires, without providing any evidence, while environmentalists have warned his plans for more agriculture and mining in the region will speed up deforestation.
The far-right firebrand engaged in a public war of words with French President Emmanuel Macron, who called for more to be done to combat the fires.
Hurricane Dorian death toll climbs to 43, expected to rise ‘significantly’
The death toll from Hurricane Dorian’s devastating rampage across the Bahamas rose to 43 Friday, a number authorities said is likely to climb “significantly,” even as rescuers plucked desperate survivors from the debris.
More than 260 residents of the brutally damaged Abaco Islands arrived in the capital city of Nassau after spending more than seven hours on a government-chartered ferry, a second of which was expected to arrive overnight, AFP reported.
Those who made it to safety awaited news of loved ones such as Diane Forbes, who had not heard from her two sons since Tuesday and was searching for them among some 200 evacuees sheltering at a gymnasium Friday night in Nassau, which was spared the wrath of the hurricane.
“They said they were hungry and the scent of the bodies, the dead, was really getting to them... I don’t know if my son is alive or not,” she said of one of her children, who had been in Marsh Harbour on Abaco with his girlfriend and her mother.
Confirming the new toll of 43, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said 35 were killed on worst-hit Abaco and eight on Grand Bahama island.
“The loss of life we are experiencing is catastrophic and devastating,” he said in a statement late Friday quoted by The Tribune newspaper.
With many missing, “this number is expected to grow significantly,” his spokeswoman Erica Wells Cox told NBC News.
On the eventual death toll, Health Minister Duane Sands earlier said “the number will be staggering.”
“Literally hundreds, up to thousands, of people are still missing,” Joy Jibrilu, the director general of the Bahamian tourism and aviation ministry, told CNN.
Thousands of people were left homeless on Grand Bahama and Abaco and many were becoming frustrated with the speed of relief and evacuation efforts.
According to UN relief officials, more than 70,000 people – virtually the entire population of Grand Bahama and Abaco – are in need of assistance after the storm reduced homes to matchsticks and destroyed people’s livelihoods.
The US Coast Guard and private organizations have been evacuating residents of Abaco and other islands to Nassau.
The multinational relief effort, which also includes Britain’s Royal Navy and several non-governmental organizations, has been hampered by flood damage to airport runways, destroyed piers and docks and downed communications.
Tents and awnings installed at Nassau Airport, not far from rescue planes taking off and landing, provided temporary housing for storm-battered Bahamians.
As survivors began the first steps in rebuilding their lives, arrangements were being made to take care of the dead and the Bahamian authorities were seeking to account for the missing.
Venezuela prosecutors to charge Guaido with ‘high treason’
Venezuelan prosecutors said Friday they would charge opposition leader Juan Guaido with “high treason” for planning to renounce the country’s claim to a disputed border area controlled by Guyana.
Guaido, the National Assembly speaker, is being investigated for negotiating to renounce “the historical claim our country has on the territory of Esequibo,” Attorney General Tarek William Saab told reporters, according to AFP.
State prosecutors successfully petitioned the country’s all-powerful Constituent Assembly to lift Guaido’s parliamentary immunity in April. He already faces several other charges, including one of “usurping the functions of the president”.
Guaido has remained free, however, and continues to rally support against President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido’s main international sponsor, the United States, has warned Venezuelan authorities against any attempt to arrest him.
Maduro appeared on television on Thursday to call on prosecutors to file treason charges on Guaido for allegedly plotting to hand over Esequibo to multinational companies.
The case is based on audio recordings purported to involve a US administration official urging an advisor to Guaido to “deliver the Esequibo” to Exxon Mobil and other multinationals, according to the Maduro government.
The resource-rich 61,600-square-mile (159,000-square-kilometer) territory is the subject of a longstanding border dispute, exacerbated in 2015 by a “significant” oil discovery announced by Exxon Mobil. The oil company’s exploration deal with Guyana angered Venezuela, which reasserted its territorial claim.
“We have initiated an investigation,” Saab said in a televised press conference, of Guaido’s involvement “in an illegal negotiation behind the country’s back that intends to withdraw the historical claim our country has on the territory of Esequibo.”
“The facts imply a crime of treason,” he said.
It is Latin America’s biggest remaining territorial dispute. If Venezuela’s claim were to win out, Guyana – the former British Guiana – would lose more than half its territory.
Riot police deployment thwarts Hong Kong airport protest
Riot police fanned out across Hong Kong on Saturday and thwarted plans by anti-government protesters to target the airport, days after the city’s leader made a surprise concession which was rejected by the movement as too little, too late.
Millions of protesters have taken to Hong Kong’s streets for the past three months in the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997, AFP reported.
On Wednesday, the city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam surprised many by announcing she was scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition law that sparked the widespread and sometimes violent rallies.
The withdrawal was one of the protesters’ key demands and both she and Beijing had previously refused to budge on the issue.
Lam, who was not directly elected but appointed by an overwhelmingly Beijing-friendly committee, portrayed the move as a bid to de-escalate tensions and start a dialogue.
But it has been widely dismissed by protesters as an empty gesture after 14 weeks of clashes with more than 1,100 arrests and many facing jail sentences.
Online messaging forums used by the largely leaderless movement had called for protesters to “stress test” the airport on Saturday afternoon, filling up with suggestions for how to disrupt the road and rail links leading to the terminals.
But a large deployment of police at key bus, ferry and rail terminals across the city appeared to deter protesters from arriving en masse.
Some train and bus services to the airport were running a more restricted service while police performed multiple stop and searches, largely against young people.
At the airport itself, the atmosphere was calm but passengers had to queue to have bags searched and boarding passes checked before being allowed to enter.
“On the way to the airport, our bus stopped for some sort of searching. The police came into the bus and checked everyone,” James Reis, a passenger who arrived nine hours ahead of his flight home to Portugal, told AFP.
In recent weeks, the airport – the world’s eighth busiest – has become a repeated target of protesters as they try to ramp up pressure on Beijing and city leaders by denting Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable business hub.
But the tactic is controversial because of the travel misery it causes – and the fact that the target is not the state but ordinary people.
Israeli troops kill two Gazan teens during ‘Great March of Return’ protests
Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers including a 14-year-old during protests in the Gaza Strip on Friday, Palestinian health officials said.
They named the dead as Khaled al-Rabai, 14, and Ali al-Ashqar, 17. Seventy protesters were wounded, 38 of them by live fire, medical officials said, Reuters reported.
Israel also launched airstrike and artillery attacks on the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military spokesman said. Palestinian officials said no one was injured.
Israeli officials said that the attacks were in response to rocket attacks from the besieged Gaza Strip.
Protesters have staged 18 months of weekly demonstrations dubbed the “Great March of Return”, calling for an end to a security blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee by Israel in 1948.
An Israeli military spokesman said troops on Friday were faced with more than 6,000 demonstrators at several points along the fence. Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations officials have been working to keep the region calm in recent months.
Around 210 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began in March 2018, Gaza medical officials say.
During the period, two Israeli soldiers were killed in the clashes. Israel seized Gaza in a 1967 war and pulled out its settlers and troops in 2005.
The Syrian Army said on Saturday its air defenses foiled a drone attack by “terrorist” groups on a main military base in northwestern Syria, according to Reuters.