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One killed, several injured as earthquake rocks southern Bosnia | News

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The tremor hit 42km (26 miles) south east of Mostar and was felt across the Balkans, according to media reports.

A magnitude 5.7 earthquake has rocked southern Bosnia with media reports saying at least one person has been killed and several injured.

The earthquake struck late on Friday hitting 42km (26 miles) south east of the city of Mostar, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said.

The quake was at a depth of five kilometres (3.1 miles), it added.

A 28-year-old woman died of injuries after a boulder crashed down a hill and struck her house in the town of Stolac, near Mostar.

Several others were lightly injured, including members of the victim’s family.

The earthquake also toppled walls and caused damage to property in several other localities, including Mostar and the town of Ljubinje, according to local and civil defence authorities.

It was felt across the Balkans as far away as Belgrade, Zagreb and Skopje, more than 400km (249 miles) from the epicentre, according to media reports.

The EMSC warned that “aftershocks are likely to happen in the coming hours and days”.

The Balkans is prone to seismic activity and earthquakes are frequent.

A magnitude 6.4 quake in December 2020 in the Petrinja region of Croatia, near the capital Zagreb, killed seven people and destroyed hundreds of buildings and houses.

In March 2020, Zagreb was hit by a magnitude 5.3 tremor that caused extensive damage.

In November 2019, more than 50 people were killed in Albania by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake that also left thousands homeless.



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Russia to cut gas supplies to Finland on Saturday: Gasum | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Finnish state-owned gas company says Russian cutoff, which follows application to join NATO, will not affect supply.

Russia will cut flows of natural gas to Finland on Saturday, Finnish state-owned energy wholesaler Gasum has said.

Gasum said on Friday that it had been informed by Russia’s state-owned energy corporation Gazprom that flows would be halted.

The Finnish company said the move by Russia would not cause disruptions in supplies.

The gas cutoff – which is scheduled to take place at 04:00 GMT on Saturday – comes in the wake of Finland and Sweden applying to join the NATO military alliance amid security concerns spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said in a statement.

“However, we have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months,” he said.

Payments for Russian gas have become an issue since Moscow demanded that foreign buyers start paying for supplies in roubles, and Russia cut supplies to Poland and Bulgaria for refusing to do so.

Gazprom Export demanded in April that future payments in the supply contract to Finland be made in roubles instead of euros, but Gasum rejected the demand and announced on Tuesday it was taking the issue to arbitration.

 

Gasum said it will continue to provide Finnish customers with natural gas through the Balticconnector pipeline that connects Finland with Estonia.

Earlier on Friday, Finland announced a 10-year agreement with US-based Excelerate Energy to lease a floating storage and delivery vessel to provide liquefied natural gas to the region.

While the majority of gas used in Finland comes from Russia, the fossil fuel only accounts for between five to eight percent of the country’s annual energy consumption.

‘Far-reaching consequences’

Gazprom did not immediately comment on the cutting of gas supplies to Finland, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while Moscow did not have detailed information regarding Gazprom’s supply contracts, “obviously nothing will be supplied to anyone for free”.

On Sunday, RAO Nordic, a subsidiary of Russian state energy holding Inter RAO, cut off electricity supply to Fingrid, Finland’s electricity grid operator, citing concerns over payment. Fingrid said the reduced power supply would be compensated for with increased domestic output and imports from Sweden.

Finland and Sweden on Thursday broke their historic policies of neutrality and officially applied to join NATO, although their joint application will need to overcome opposition from Turkey.

Moscow has repeatedly warned Finland, which shares a 1,340km (830 mile) border with Russia, of “far-reaching consequences” in response to its bid to join the military bloc.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Friday that Moscow would establish 12 new military units and divisions in the western region of the country, citing the possible expansion of NATO and other emerging military threats.



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‘We are going to die’: Food crisis worsens misery of Sri Lankans | Politics News

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Sri Lanka’s prime minister has warned of a food shortage as the island nation battles a devastating economic crisis and promises to buy enough fertiliser for the next planting season to boost harvests.

A decision in April last year by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ban all chemical fertilisers drastically cut crop yields and although the government has reversed the ban, no substantial imports have yet taken place.

“While there may not be time to obtain fertiliser for this Yala [May-August] season, steps are being taken to ensure adequate stocks for the Maha [September-March] season,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a message on Twitter late on Thursday.

“I sincerely urge everyone to accept the gravity of the … situation.”

Sri Lanka crisis
A vendor packs fruits to sell at a vegetable market in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Cabinet expanded

President Rajapaksa appointed nine new members to the cabinet on Friday, including to the critical health, trade and tourism ministries.

The new ministers for the critical health, trade and tourism departments were sworn in by the president at his tightly-guarded official residence in Colombo, the government said in a brief statement.

Two legislators from the main opposition SJB party broke ranks to join the new government. Another opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, agreed to support President Rajapaksa and was given one portfolio.

However, the finance position – which will bring with it responsibility for leading negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a bailout – remains vacant.

There are speculations that the portfolio is likely to be retained by Wickremesinghe.

The delay in announcing a finance minister could hinder Sri Lanka’s negotiations with the IMF, the central bank chief warned on Thursday.

Sri Lanka crisis
People sit on empty cylinders as they wait in a queue to buy domestic gas in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Tourism-dependent Sri Lanka is facing a dire shortage of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines, and economic activity has slowed to a crawl.

‘We are going to die’

“There is no point in talking about how hard life is,” said APD Sumanavathi, a 60-year-old woman selling fruit and vegetables in the Pettah market in Colombo, the commercial capital. “I can’t predict how things will be in two months, at this rate we might not even be here.”

Nearby, a long queue had formed in front of a shop selling cooking gas cylinders, the prices of which have soared to nearly 5,000 rupees ($14) from 2,675 rupees ($8) in April.

“Only about 200 cylinders were delivered, even though there were about 500 people,” said Mohammad Shazly, a part-time chauffeur in the queue for the third day in the hope of cooking for his family of five.

“Without gas, without kerosene oil, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Last option what? Without food we are going to die. That will happen 100 percent.”

The central bank governor said on Thursday foreign exchange had been secured from a World Bank loan and remittances to pay for fuel and cooking gas shipments, but supplies are still to flow through.

Sri Lanka crisis
A couple waits in a queue to buy kerosene at a fuel station in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Inflation could rise to a staggering 40 percent in the next couple of months but it was being driven largely by supply-side pressures and measures by the bank and government were already reining in demand-side inflation, the governor said.

Inflation hit 29.8 percent in April with food prices up 46.6 percent year-on-year.

As anger against the government spreads, police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back hundreds of students protesting in Colombo on Thursday. They were demanding the removal of the president as well as the new prime minister.

The economic crisis has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering tourism, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister last week.

Critics accuse Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister in his place, of being a stooge of the brothers, an accusation he denies.

Sri Lanka crisis
A protester throws back a tear gas canister towards the police during a protest near the President’s House in Colombo, Thursday [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Other factors have included heavily subsidised domestic prices of fuel and the decision to ban chemical fertiliser imports.

The Group of Seven (G7) economic powers support efforts to provide debt relief for Sri Lanka, group finance chiefs said on Thursday in a draft communique from a meeting in Germany after Sri Lanka defaulted on its sovereign debt.

Central bank chief P Nandalal Weerasinghe has said plans for debt restructuring were almost finalised and he would be submitting a proposal to the cabinet soon.

“We are in preemptive default,” he said. “Our position is very clear, until there is a debt restructure, we cannot repay.”

A spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund said it was monitoring developments very closely and a virtual mission to Sri Lanka was expected to conclude technical talks on a possible loan programme on May 24.



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Biden heads to Asia to boost Indo-Pacific ties amid Ukraine war | Politics News

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Seoul, South Korea – President Joe Biden has embarked on a six-day visit to South Korea and Japan aimed at demonstrating the United States’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific region amid China’s rise and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US leader is expected in South Korea on Friday evening.

After a three-day visit that includes a summit with his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Suk-yeol, he will leave for Japan on Sunday for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Biden’s first trip to Asia as president, however, is being overshadowed by what US officials have called a “real risk of some kind of provocation” from North Korea, including a nuclear or a missile test.

In Seoul and Tokyo, Biden will discuss the North’s nuclear programme as well as the US’s economic and security ties with its two treaty allies in Asia. He is also likely to seek improved relations between South Korea and Japan after ties soured over historical feuds and territorial issues during the presidency of Moon Jae-in.

In Tokyo, Biden will also convene a summit of the leaders of the Quad grouping – which includes the US, Japan, India and Australia – and launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), an agreement that seeks to set standards on supply chains, worker protections, decarbonisation and anti-corruption.

“The main objective of Biden’s trip to Asia is to shore up the support of key Asian allies for the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Jaechun Kim, professor of international relations at South Korea’s Sogang University. “There is concern that the Biden administration has got its hands tied in Ukraine war when the real threat is China and the key region of the US interest is the Indo-Pacific, not Europe.”

A placard near the US Embassy in Seoul showing the US and Korean flags and two people shaking hands - in support of Biden's visit
Experts say Biden’s visit to Seoul and Tokyo is about showing support to democratic allies in the Asia Pacific and the rules-based international order [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

Biden’s visit, therefore, is aimed at showing that supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression is “closely related” to supporting its Asian allies counter China’s growing economic and military clout in the region.

“The Ukraine war is all about upholding the rules-based international order (RBIO), wherein the norm of sovereignty is the cardinal norm of international relations. Russia has violated that norm and invaded Ukraine. It should be stopped at all costs short of committing boots on the ground. The US Indo-Pacific is also about protecting RBIO in the region,” said Kim.

Democratic alliance

The White House has said Biden’s aim is not so much about confronting China, but sending a “powerful message” to Beijing and others about what the world could look like if democracies “stand together to shape the rules of the road”.

To that end, Biden’s Asia trip is also “fundamentally about” building personal ties with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters en route to South Korea.

“In both cases, he’s looking for the opportunity to just spend time to get to know these leaders … so that when they need to pick up the phone in a crisis or to respond to a major world event, there’s a baseline of trust and understanding and almost like a common operating language,” he said.

Biden’s meeting with Yoon will be his first. The South Korean leader, who was elected in a closely fought election in March, was inaugurated on May 10.

Biden and Kishida, who took office in October of last year, have met in person once before, on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in November last year.

Hours before Biden’s arrival, Yoon sent his “sincere welcome” to the US president.

“A mountain shows its way to the summit to those who seek it,” he wrote in the first ever tweet from his official account. “I am confident the ROK-US alliance that seeks to uphold the values of democracy and human rights shall only elevate in the future,” he added, referring to South Korea by its formal name, the Republic of Korea.

Yoon’s priority for Biden’s visit will be to “establish the ROK-US alliance as a central axis for building and strengthening East Asia and global peace and prosperity”, according to aides to the South Korean president, in the face of increased provocations from North Korea.

Pyongyang has carried out a record 16 weapons launches this year and US and South Korean officials say it may be preparing to test a nuclear weapon, perhaps during Biden’s three-day visit, despite grappling with a coronavirus outbreak that has infected an estimated two million people.

“There is a genuine possibility, a real risk of some kind of provocation while we’re in the region, whether in South Korea or in Japan, that could take the form of a nuclear test, the seventh nuclear test that North Korea’s conducted. It could take the form of a missile test,” Sullivan told reporters on board Air Force One, the president’s plane.

He added that Washington is prepared to respond to such an event.

“We have communicated not just our allies but with China, that this would cause the United States only to increase our fortitude in terms of defending our allies and cause adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region.”

Seoul and Tokyo align

Yoon has pledged a tougher line on North Korea than his predecessor, including by seeking enhanced military drills with the US and the redeployment of US nuclear bombers and submarines to South Korean territory. But during his inauguration, he also promised an “audacious” economic plan if the North gave up its nuclear weapons.

Kim Jong Un shown on North Korean state television removing his face mask
North Korea is battling a severe outbreak of COVID-19, but there are concerns it could attempt a nuclear test while Biden is in the region [File: Anthony Wallace/AFP]

Analysts say they expect the US and South Korea to pursue a North Korea policy that focuses on deterrence rather than diplomacy, unlike Yoon’s predecessor, Moon.

“The significant conversation behind the scenes is going to be more around the question of how does the US effectively deliver credible extended deterrence to South Korea and what specific mechanisms does that look like,” said Scott Snyder, director of the Program on US-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based think-tank.

And that includes discussions on “the positioning of nuclear-capable assets”, he said.

Another key outcome of Biden’s Asia trip could also be improved South Korea-Japan ties. Analysts say this is key, not only to address North Korea’s nuclear programme, but also for the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Yoon ran on a campaign platform of improving ties with Tokyo, and as president-elect, he sent a delegation in April to deliver a letter to Kishida that expressed his desire to pursue a “forward-looking partnership” with Japan, while also facing up to the shared history, according to the Yonhap news agency. These include addressing the issue of Japan forcing South Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Yoon and Kishida’s desire for improved relations is a “very rare security condition” that is very advantageous to Biden, said Youngshik Bong, a research fellow at the Yonsei University’s Institute for North Korean Studies.

“For the first time in a long time, the leaderships of all three countries – South Korea, Japan, United States – are on the same page of strengthening and upgrading trilateral security cooperation …” he said. “If you look at past history, at least one leadership in one country has been quite cautious or passive in rendering full support for the trilateral security cooperation.

“But this time, all three leaders are on the same page.

“This will allow all three to work together to strengthen security cooperation,” he said.





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