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Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2017 05:17:59 +0200

Lima, July 18, 2017 (AFP) - A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck just off Peru's southern coast Monday, the US Geological Survey said, with no immediate reports of injuries or damage.   The quake hit at approximately 9:05 pm local time (0205 GMT) with a depth of 44 kilometres (27 miles).   It occurred some 220 kilometers west of Arequipa, Peru's second most populous city.

Though there was no initial evidence of damage the tremor provoked alarm among Peruvians, with the Mayor of the southern town of Caraveli saying residents there had taken to the streets.   "The tremor has been very strong here in Caraveli," Mayor Santiago Neyra said. "It has generated fear in the population."   Social media users suggested the quake was felt as far south as the country's Chilean border.
Peru lies on the so-called "Ring of Fire" -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.   The South American country records about 200 earthquakes a year, most of them going unnoticed by the public.   The last major earthquake to shake Peru hit in August 2007, killing 595 people.
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2017 03:19:02 +0200

Washington, July 18, 2017 (AFP) - An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 struck Monday off the eastern coast of Russia, according to the US Geological Survey, causing officials to initially warn of a tsunami threat in parts of the Pacific.   But the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted that forecast a short time later, saying it did not expect "a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami," and adding there was no threat to Hawaii.   "Minor sea level fluctuations may occur in some coastal areas near the earthquake over the next few hours," the center said.   Waves had been initially forecast to be less than 0.3 meters (1 foot) above the tide level for coasts in the area ranging from Russia to Hawaii, the tsunami authority said.   The quake at 2334 GMT hit 123 miles (199 kilometers) east-southeast of Nikol'skyoe, Russia, the US Geological Survey said, noting that it struck at a depth of 11.7 kilometers.
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2017 00:32:06 +0200
By Maria Isabel SANCHEZ

Caracas, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Venezuela's opposition called a nationwide strike for Thursday to press President Nicolas Maduro to back off a rewriting of the constitution, ratcheting up tensions after an unofficial vote rejecting Maduro's plan and amid months of deadly protests.   The strike call, issued on Monday, was part of what the opposition called a "final offensive" aimed at forcing Maduro out through early elections before his term ends in 2019.

On Sunday, in an event organized by the opposition, more than a third of Venezuela's 19 million voters rejected Maduro's bid to have a citizens' body called a "Constituent Assembly" elected on July 30 to redraft the constitution.   Several countries lauded the balloting. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday it sent an "unmistakable statement" to Maduro and his government.   The EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Maduro should suspend his plan, or he "risks further polarizing the country and increasing confrontation."

However Maduro and his government, backed by a loyal military, have dug in against the opposition tactics and the international criticism.    Despite growing public anger at food and medicine shortages under a spiralling economic crisis that has fed into the opposition movement, authorities in Caracas portray the efforts against them as illegitimate and the result of interference from the "imperialist" United States.

- 'Escalation' to follow -
"We are calling all the country to take part in a massive and violence-free protest through a nationwide civic strike for 24 hours," said one leader in the opposition coalition, Freddy Guevara.   He said the stoppage was a "mechanism for pressure and to prepare for the definitive escalation to take place next week."

There were fears, however, that the stepped-up confrontation could worsen violence in Venezuela's streets. Since April, when anti-Maduro protests and police pushback turned bloody, 96 people have died.   The opposition set the scene for the strike with its vote Sunday, which it called a "plebiscite" but which the government dismissed as "illegal."   Electoral authorities, who have systematically sided with Maduro against the opposition-controlled legislature, denied authorization for the balloting.   A total of 7.6 million Venezuelans -- at home and abroad -- turned out for Sunday's vote, the opposition said, undermining legitimacy for Maduro's future Constituent Assembly.   Brazil's foreign ministry said in a statement "the high turnout in the plebiscite... was an unmistakable sign the Venezuelan people want democracy quickly restored." It, too, called on Maduro to shelve his Constituent Assembly idea.

- Change wanted -
Venezuela's opposition, invigorated by the voter support and the international reactions, clearly was keen to seize the moment.   "The mandate the people have given us is clear," said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.   Borges said the vote showed a public desire to see Maduro leave power before his term ends.   Political analyst John Magdaleno told AFP that "there is evidence of a persistent and durable demand for political change."   The result of Sunday's vote may not have been binding, but Venezuela "sent a clear message to the national executive and the world," announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, one of several experts who oversaw Sunday's vote.   According to the opposition, the final turnout figure was enough to overturn Maduro's mandate should there be a recall referendum, because it exceeded the 7.5 million votes that put the president in power in 2013.

To lend weight to the vote, a group of former Latin American presidents, including Mexico's Vicente Fox, who was declared "persona non grata" by the government, took part as observers.    But Luis Vicente Leon, head of the polling firm Datanalisis, said the opposition's challenge now was to leverage the vote to "crack" Maduro's stance and "press for negotiations that would give an peaceful chance for change."   The opposition has accused Maduro of driving the country into bankruptcy, and of planning to use the Constituent Assembly to entirely sideline the legislature.   For many ordinary Venezuelans suffering under shortages of basic goods, sky-high inflation and climbing unemployment, the vote was a way of expressing frustration at the president and his policies.   Yet Maduro has insisted his proposed Constituent Assembly is "the only path" to peace and economic recovery. Thus far, he has shown no sign of backing down.
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 23:08:04 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Montenegro asked Monday for international help to fight wildfires in the Lustica peninsula on the country's Adriatic coast, while forest fires in neighbouring Croatia spread to suburbs of the coastal city of Split.   "The situation at Lustica is critical. The interior ministry of Montenegro asked for the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism" to be activated to help extinguish the fire, the government said in a statement.   Mayors of the threatened coastal towns of Kotor, Tivat and Herceg Novi urged the government to ask neighbouring nations -- Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia--  to send fire-extinguishing aircraft.   Fanned by strong winds, the forest fires forced the evacuation of more than a hundred campers. 

Firefighters aided by the armed forces and volunteers have been battling the blazes since Sunday, boosted by police aircraft on Monday, the interior ministry said.   Further north, wildfires on Monday evening spread to the suburbs of Split, Croatia's  second largest city on the central Adriatic coast, where a shopping centre had to be evacuated and several cars were burned, local media reported.   The city waste dump was set on fire, HRT state-run television reported, while the town was covered with thick black smoke.

Some dozen wildfires were raging for the second consecutive day in the Split area villages, burning several houses, local media reported.   Some 400 firefighters were trying to fight the blaze, helped by more than 100 soldiers and firefighting planes.   "Current situation is apocalyptical, the blaze engulfed a large area, all is in smoke and fire," head of the Split county, Blazenko Boban, told reporters.   The cause of the fires is not known.
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 22:02:40 +0200
By Julien BESSET

Montreal, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Almost 40,000 Canadians have fled their homes under threat of huge wild fires, with British Columbia facing its largest emergency evacuation ever, officials said Monday.   Canada scrambled thousands of firefighters and hundreds of aircraft from across the country to tackle raging infernos in the western province, and had even drafted extra firefighters from Australia, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.   He said 39,000 people had been forced from their homes so far, noting that the emergency measures constituted "the largest evacuation in the history of British Columbia," the worst-hit region in the country.   "I would note that we're expecting at least 50 forest firefighters to be coming in from Australia over the course of the next couple of days. And if there are additional resources needed from other parts of the world, we will access those as well," he said.

Southern and central British Columbia have been hit by scorching weather that has left the forested province on high alert for the past 10 days.   Authorities had hoped to have the fires under control late last week, but they returned with a vengeance over the weekend, fanned by strong winds and increasing in number as lightning strikes sparked new blazes.   Wild fires were also devastating forests in California, where a lightning storm on Sunday near Yosemite National Park started a blaze dubbed the "Detwiller fire" which razed 7,100 acres (2,870 hectares), according to Cal Fire firefighters.

Around 50 alerts were issued in towns and villages in British Columbia, forcing residents to flee their homes with no guarantee they can return any time soon.    On Saturday, the 11,000 residents of Williams Lake were forced to abandon their homes and spend hours stuck in traffic jams on the only evacuation route still open from their town, surrounded by flames in the middle of the night.   A dozen towns set up emergency centers to accommodate those fleeing the fires, providing camp beds and food. But towns such as Kamloops and Prince George were starting to be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people arriving every day.

- Rockies under threat -
Around 3,000 firefighters from all over Canada, together with 200 helicopters and fire-fighting planes were battling 150 blazes in British Columbia, several of which were raging out of control.    A fire-fighting helicopter crashed in the region on Saturday, and its pilot -- who was alone on board -- was being treated in a hospital.   Since April 1,641 fires have destroyed some 500 square miles (130,000 hectares) of forest in the province.    Some of the worst fires, such as the blaze near the town of Ashcroft, cover tens of thousands of hectares.

The fires may even threaten areas further east in the Rocky Mountains, home to some of the country's most important national parks like the nature reserve in Banff which receives almost four million tourists every year.   The rapid spread of the fires, and the accompanying thick, acrid smoke prompted the environment ministry on Monday to issue an air quality advisory in Calgary, in Alberta province, hundreds of miles from the fires and on the other side of the Rockies.   The fires comes at the height of tourist season and just as Canada is expecting a flood of visitors to celebrate its 150th anniversary, when it will grant free access to its national parks.
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 14:48:50 +0200

New Delhi, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - The death toll from severe monsoon flooding across India has risen to at least 76, officials said Monday, with eight people killed in the past day.   Heavy rain in Gujarat has claimed 11 lives since Saturday as the monsoon intensified across the western state.   "Seven of these died in the last 24 hours and at least four others are still missing," Pankaj Kumar, a Gujarat government official, told AFP.   Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India's northeast have been the hardest-hit states, while pockets of the eastern states of Odisha and Bihar have also been affected.

In hilly Assam 60 people have been killed and a state-wide emergency relief operation has been underway since the wet season arrived in April.   "One person died in the last 24 hours. Thousands have been rescued and are now in 118 relief camps set up by the government across 21 affected districts," said Rajib Prakash Barua, a senior official with Assam's Disaster Management Authority.   Rains had eased in some parts of the state but five major rivers were still at danger levels, he added.   Rescue teams have also delivered grass and other feed to animals stranded in flooded sections of Assam's Kaziranga National Park, home to India's famed one-horned rhinos and other native species.   Power supplies and rail and road services have been disrupted in the five worst-hit states.   Thousands in Odisha have been badly hit by flash floods, which stranded many without basic essentials.

Emergency response teams rescued at least 300 people since Sunday, including 16 pregnant women, from one of the worst-hit regions.   "Closely monitoring flood situation; every effort being made to reach the affected with food, medicines and supplies. Air sorties in full swing," Odisha's chief minister Naveen Patnaik posted on Twitter on Monday.    Parts of Arunachal Pradesh have endured some of their worst floods and landslides for years amid more than a week of incessant rain.    At least five people were killed by a landslide last week in a remote village along the border with China.   The government has called in the army to help with relief and rescue operations in some parts of the worst-hit states.
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 03:25:28 +0200

Los Angeles, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Flash flooding that swept over a swimming hole near Payson, Arizona has left at least eight people dead with several still missing, authorities said Sunday.   Sheriff's office staff responded to an emergency call after the flooding at the Cold Springs Swimming Hole, said J. Adam Shepherd of the Gila county sheriff's office.   "Eight individuals have been confirmed deceased and search operations continue for remaining missing individuals," Shepherd said in a statement, without specifying how many people were still unaccounted for.

A flash flood warning was in effect for southeast Arizona until Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service.   According to the Arizona Emergency Information Network, flash flooding has claimed at least 40 lives in the state since 1996, more than any other storm-related hazard.
Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2017 09:41:24 +0200

Ahmedabad, India, July 16, 2017 (AFP) - Heavy monsoon flooding has killed four people in western India, officials said Sunday, with grave fears held for at least six others still missing following torrential downpours.   Major rail networks and dozens of highways in Gujarat state have been interrupted by floodwaters, and power to more than 120 villages cut in badly-hit areas.   "Four people died after being swept away in rain waters since Saturday morning. Six others are missing", Pankaj Kumar, a senior state government official, told AFP, adding the National Disaster Response Force was searching for survivors.   The force, plus India's military, had rescued more than 2,000 people from the worst-hit regions and relocated them to higher ground.   The Indian Meteorological Department predicts heavy rain to batter the state for another two days, especially in coastal areas, the department's Manorama Mohanty told AFP.

Monsoon rains have caused serious flooding in other states including Bihar in the east and Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in India's remote northeast.   The latter two states are enduring their worst floods and landslides in years amid more than a week of incessant rain.    Nearly half a million people in Assam have been affected, and more than two dozens killed in the downpours.   India's junior home minister Kiren Rijiju posted on Twitter from Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday that funding for medicines and relief efforts had been released to assist those struggling in the aftermath of the disaster.
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2017 23:01:15 +0200

Montevideo, July 14, 2017 (AFP) - Uruguay will allow pharmacies to sell marijuana starting next Wednesday, in the final phase of a law making the small South American country the first in the world to legalize and regulate pot from production to sale.   Under legislation approved in 2013, Uruguayans have been allowed to grow their own pot and smoke it in clubs.   But working out a timetable for pharmacies to sell it -- the third and last conduit called for in the legislation -- proved more tricky. This has now been resolved, the state agency regulating marijuana said in a statement Friday.

People have to register to buy pot in pharmacies, and so far 4,700 have done so, most of them in the 30 to 44 age group, according to government figures. Uruguay's total population is 3.4 million.   Under the first phase of the 2013 law, more than 6,600 people have registered to grow weed at home, and 51 smokers' clubs have been authorized.   The state Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCC) has authorized the sale of two types of marijuana, to be sold in packages of five and 10 grams.

Pharmacists say they are not sure how profitable pot sales will be -- registered smokers can buy no more than 40 grams a month, at $1.30 a gram -- and they have expressed concern about training the employees who will handle pot, and providing security against theft.   There have also been questions about the quality and potency of the officially provided weed, with some saying it is remarkably weak.   Only two companies were authorized to produce marijuana for pharmacies -- under military protection, and with no public access.   Government officials insist they will prevent "cannabis tourism." Only Uruguayans and legal residents will be allowed to partake.
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2017 17:02:18 +0200

Cairo, July 14, 2017 (AFP) - An attacker wounded six female tourists when he attacked them with a knife on a beach in Egypt's Red Sea resort town of Hurghada on Friday, the interior ministry said.   The assailant has been arrested and is being questioned to determine his motives, the ministry said in a statement.   Their nationalities were not immediately clear, but at least one of the tourists is a dual Ukrainian-Russian national, according to Russian media citing the consulate in Egypt.

The ministry said the assailant swam to the beach before attacking the tourists.   In January 2016, three tourists in Hurghada were wounded in a stabbing attack by two assailants with apparent Islamic State group sympathies.   Hurghada is one of Egypt's most popular beach resorts, especially with Ukrainians and European tourists.   Security has been boosted in tourist resorts around the country, as the industry provides Egypt with much needed revenues.

An Islamic State group bombing of a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from a south Sinai resort in 2015 killed all 224 people on board and decimated the country's tourism sector.   Russia suspended all flights to Egypt in response and has yet to resume them.   IS has been waging a deadly insurgency based in the north of the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.