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Ecuador quake toll at 272, ‘certain to rise’

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(Last Updated On: April 18, 2016)

EQUADOR

The biggest earthquake in Ecuador in decades has killed 272 people — but that toll will ‘certainly’ rise even further, the president said as overwhelmed rescuers struggled to pull survivors out of the destruction.

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck the small, oil-producing South American nation late Saturday, shattering hotels and homes along its Pacific coast popular with tourists and reducing several towns to rubble.

More than 2,000 people were injured as structures tumbled during the quake or its dozens of aftershocks.

The capital Quito, farther inland, escaped with cracked walls and power outages, and the country’s strategic oil facilities appeared unscathed, officials said.

But along the coast, the devastation prompted neighboring Colombia, as well as quake-experienced Mexico and El Salvador, to rush in rescue personnel to help out.

In Portoviejo, a city 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the coast, the temblor knocked down walls in a prison, allowing 100 inmates to escape.

Some were recaptured or returned later, but police were hunting the others, Justice Minister Ledy Zuniga tweeted.

Elsewhere in hard-hit Portoviejo, the stench of decaying bodies began to fill the tropical air as rescuers raced to find survivors.

“We have already recovered three dead and we believe there are 10 to 11 people still trapped,” said one worker digging through the debris of what used to be a six-story hotel called El Gato.

– State of emergency –

Officials have declared a state of emergency in the worst-hit provinces, and a national state of “exception,” both of which suspend certain civil rights and liberties to allow security forces and officials to react faster.

President Rafael Correa visited the disaster zone last Sunday, after cutting short an official trip to the Vatican and flying home.

He said the latest toll of 272 dead “will certainly rise and probably in a considerable way” in the hours ahead.

Among the worst-hit towns was Pedernales, where Mayor Gabriel Alcivar estimated there were up to 400 more dead yet to be confirmed, many under the rubble of hotels that collapsed.

“Pedernales is devastated. Buildings have fallen down, especially hotels where there are lots of tourists staying. There are lots of dead bodies,” he told local media.

Soldiers patrolled the beach town, and the Red Cross and the army had set up a center to treat the injured and receive bodies.

Two Canadians were among those killed by the quake, their country’s government told AFP.

Colombia’s foreign ministry said five Colombians had also died.

In Calderon, near Portoviejo, 73-year-old resident Nelly, who would not give her last name, told AFP in tears that she rushed into the street after the quake and saw that the covered market had collapsed.

“There was a person trapped who screamed for help, but then the screaming stopped. Oh, it was terrible,” she said.

– Ring of Fire –

Ecuador’s Geophysical Office reported “considerable” structural damage as far away as Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city with more than two million people, which is 350 kilometers (220 miles) away.

Although Ecuador frequently suffers seismic shudders because of its position on the Pacific rim’s Ring of Fire, the weekend’s quake — which lasted a full minute — was the worst to hit it in nearly 40 years.

Ecuador has been rocked by seven earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher in the region of Saturday’s quake since 1900, the US Geological Survey said. One in March 1987 killed about 1,000 people.

David Rothery, a professor of geosciences at Britain’s Open University, said the 7.8 magnitude meant that “the total energy involved was probably about 20 times greater” than the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed at least 41 people in southern Japan on Saturday.

He said there was no causal link between the two quakes.

International concern and sympathy — and offers to assist — have flowed in.

Pope Francis urged prayers for the victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union chief diplomat Federica Mogherini expressed condolences and said they were ready to help.

Written by: AFP

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MPs call for ‘national treasure’ to be sent abroad for safekeeping

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

The Presidential Palace (ARG) on Wednesday called for calm and for MPs in the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) to act and speak responsibly about national issues after they called for the country’s treasure, the Bactrian Hoard, to be sent abroad for safekeeping.

ARG tweeted that the “Wolesi Jirga Speaker’s remarks about the safety of the Bactrian Treasure and its transfer abroad were unfortunate.”

The collection of pieces, including gold items, numbers about 20,000 in total, and date back to the period covering the third century BC to the first century AD.

Unearthed in northern Afghanistan in 1978 from four archaeological sites, the treasure has been preserved for hundreds of years and hidden during times of war.

In line with this, ARG tweeted the Bactrian Hoard “is one of the greatests assets of the Afghan people, which has been preserved in the maze of history in which the country’s assets were looted.”

ARG also stated that government has protected this historical treasure in a responsible manner and has allowed it to be exhibited several times in countries around the world.

The exhibitions have been done in a way for the treasure to represent “the history and identity of Afghanistan, and significant revenues to the state treasury have been obtained through this,” said ARG.

The Presidential Palace’s reaction came on the heels of comments made by Rahman Rahmani, the Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, who called for the treasure to be sent out of the country and stored abroad for safekeeping.

Rahmani said the Central Bank, where the gold is currently housed, was unreliable, and he insisted on transferring the “hoard” to a more trustworthy country on loan.

In addition to this, some lawyers also called on government to examine the state of the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The issue was raised after SIGAR released a report recently stating that vast amounts of money is still being smuggled out of the country, especially out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul – and specifically through the VIP area.

“If money is smuggled, the Bactrian treasure will not be safe, and this treasure is to support Afghanistan’s money and must be transferred to another country because the Central Bank lacks credit, and this is a very serious matter,” Rahmani said.

Another MP, Nilofar Ibrahimi said: “Action must be taken to prevent the transfer of Bakhtar treasures, because the Central Bank’s cameras have been turned off for two months and we are concerned about the distrust of the current government and this treasure is in danger of being smuggled and should be transferred to a trustworthy country.”

The total collection is estimated to be worth around $13 billion. Over the past 13 years, the treasure has been exhibited in foreign countries, earning Afghanistan about 314 million Afghanis.

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Commitment to peace is all that’s keeping Republic’s team in Doha

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said Wednesday the level of violence meted out by the Taliban is so intense that government should have walked away from negotiations but instead a steadfast belief in peace on Afghanistan’s part has kept the negotiations on track in Doha, Qatar.

Speaking at an Afghan Women’s Network meeting, Abdullah said government’s determination at securing peace is the only reason the talks are still underway.

He also said the Taliban must stop calling for the release of more prisoners until they have changed their ways.

“As long as the violence continues at the same level, the negotiations should have been stopped, because the violence escalated and it escalated from the other side, unfortunately. Our commitment to peace is decisive and we will continue the process,” Abdullah said.

“There is hope for the people of Afghanistan; when we are close to peace, then the issue of prisoners won’t be a problem; it is certainly part of the agreements that are being reached,” Abdullah added.

Members of the peace negotiating team meanwhile said the Taliban is not ready for a ceasefire and everytime the topic turns to their request for an Islamic Emirate, the group’s members walk away from the negotiating table.

The Republic’s talks team members also said the Taliban team has not been interested in discussing the agenda for the last ten days.

“Whenever there is a discussion about the issues they raise, they shrug their shoulders and they have repeatedly run away from the negotiating table,” said Farooq Majrooh, a member of the Afghan Republic’s team.

“They want to be superior, to use war and terror as a means, and to have the upper hand in this matter,” said Habiba Surabi, another member of the negotiating team.

However, Afghan women have called for an immediate ceasefire and said that peace talks and violence cannot go hand-in-hand.

“Violence parallel with peace talks is illogical and we want a ceasefire,” said Roshan Sirran, head of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN).

“The more bloodshed there is, the greater the distance, the greater the animosity, and the greater the distance between the parties,” said Sima Samar, former Minister of Government for Human Rights.

The Taliban have in the past stated they will only discuss a ceasefire once a ruling system for Afghanistan has been determined.

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AIHRC reports sharp increase in assassinations last year

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

Over 2,000 civilians were killed or wounded in targeted assassinations and attempted assassinations last year, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said.

According to a report released on Wednesday, this attack method mainly targets civilian government employees, journalists, members of civil society, religious scholars, influential and prominent figures, members of the National Assembly and human rights defenders.

The AIHRC said in the report that a total of 2,250 people were killed or injured in targeted assassination attacks and attempts – including 1,078 killed and 1,172 injured – last year.

“Unfortunately, civilian casualties from assassinations and targeted killings in 2020 have almost tripled to 169 percent compared to 2019,” the report stated.

In 2019, a total of 834 civilians were killed and injured as a result of the use of assassination methods and targeted attacks.

AIHRC stated that 65 women and 74 children were among the victims of this tactic who were killed, and 95 women and 290 children were among the wounded.

The watchdog noted in its report that suicide attacks had decreased by 23 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Despite this, the number of civilian casualties from suicide attacks remained very high, AIHRC said.

In 2020, civilian casualties from Taliban suicide attacks decreased by 44 percent compared to 2019.

In 2019, 1,195 civilians were killed in Taliban suicide attacks, killing 301 and wounding 894 while in 2020, that number dropped to 528 victims, including 65 killed and 463 injured.

In the civilian casualties caused by ISIS (Daesh Afghanistan) suicide attacks, in 2020, compared to 2019, there was a 33 percent increase.

In 2019, the total number of civilian casualties resulting from ISIL (Daesh Afghanistan) suicide attacks was 194 killed and wounded. In 2020, that number rose to 258 killed and injured.

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