Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

Palestinians search for alternatives to US-led peace process

January 29, 2018

A Palestinian student from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank protests against the reduction of the services of the UN agency and against US president’s decision to cut aid, on Sunday. (AFP)
AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has triggered a frantic search for a new strategy toward ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.
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During the Palestine Central Council meeting earlier this month, Abbas angrily declared that US-brokered negotiations were over after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
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Abbas’ two-hour speech in front of the 80-member council was followed by a boycott of the visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
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The Palestinian leadership has triggered the pursuit of a more even-handed mechanism to handle negotiations with Israel.
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Hani Al-Masri, a Ramallah-based Palestinian analyst, described Abbas’ speech as having delved “deep into history, passed quickly over the present, and largely — almost totally — ignored the future.”
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But Abbas did give some hints about possible options ahead.
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Palestinians have long claimed the talks were biased in favor of Israel and Abbas called for any further discussion to be brokered by an international committee.
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He also said they would pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, encourage popular resistance and continue to work with Israeli peace activists.
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International sponsors
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Abbas dispatched emissaries to Russia and China soon after Trump broke with decades of US policy with his Jerusalem declaration last month.
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But the focus of Palestinian diplomatic strategy has been on Europe where the hope is that Brussels can provide balance to the pro-Israel US role.
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Abbas visited Belgium last week and urged European countries to respond by recognizing the state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. But the plea was met with a muted response.
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Slovenia’s foreign minister said he hoped his country would later this year become the 10th European nation to recognize Palestine. Sweden is the only country to have recognized Palestine while being part of the EU. Countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary did so before joining the bloc. Ireland, Portugal, Luxemburg and Belgium are debating whether to follow suit.
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While the EU assured Abbas of its commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital, there was little support during his visit for his call to immediately recognize the Palestinian state, Reuters reported.
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The EU is the biggest donor of aid to Palestinians but it is also the largest trade partner with Israel.
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In a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, the head of Palestine’s mission to the US, Husam Zomlot told a delegation of European diplomats that the issue is no longer one of the negotiations but of implementation.
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“The time is ripe for the activation of the international community led by Europe to take a lead role in a peace implementation process that is based on international law,” he said.
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While efforts in Brussels and other international moves will continue, it is not expected that this alone will lead to significant progress in the near future.
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Non-violent resistance
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For many Palestinians, the only realistic and possible alternative to US-led peace talks is what Abbas referred to as “peaceful popular resistance.”
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The Palestinian president praised the tactics deployed during the first intifada, which started in 1987, and made it clear that he abhors violence.
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Mubarak Awad the founder of the International Center for Nonviolence told Arab News that peaceful resistance must be a dedicated strategy, not a short-term tactic.
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“We are requesting many groups, organization, colleges, universities, and churches to boycott, divest and sanction Israel yet we eat Israeli products.”
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He suggested that Palestine begin forming local communities to take care of people in preparation for an economic struggle against Israel that will inevitably lead to a cut in the Palestinian budget.
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“Local bodies need to organize, prepare and help their members to be prepared for the cost and sacrifice that will come with the struggle for freedom and independence. They need to work towards bringing unity and self-reliance.”
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At the present time, Awad and others are aware that neither Abbas nor most of his Fatah movement are capable of leading a physically demanding national non-violent campaign.
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The majority of Fatah activists are deeply embroiled in the Palestinian government and most of its leaders are over 65.
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Awad also suggested that Palestinians should consider using a different currency than the Israeli Shekel, such as the Jordanian dinar, Egyptian pound, or create a Palestinian currency.
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There is also the challenge of political apathy among Palestinian parties and factions, especially in Gaza where living conditions are the worst and people feel they have been pawns in the hands of local and regional powers and ideologies.
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New year jitters for bond markets as ECB cuts back stimulus

January 2, 2018

There were New Year jitters for the bond markets as the ECB cut back on stimulus. (AFP)
LONDON: Borrowing costs across the euro area shot higher on Tuesday as a cut in monthly ECB asset purchases became a reality, with hawkish comments from a top official and strong data hurting sentiment toward bonds on the first trading day of the year.
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Bonds from the bloc’s periphery, the biggest beneficiaries of European Central Bank stimulus, bore the brunt of the selling. Yields in Italy, Spain and Portugal rose 6-10 basis points each, widening the gap over German peers.
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But even “core” or top-rated bond markets were left unscathed from the selling pressure, with Germany’s 10-year bond yield hitting two-month highs.
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Benoit Coeure, the Frenchman in charge of carrying out the ECB’s bond purchases, sees “a reasonable chance” the 2.55 trillion euro stimulus program will not be extended again when it expires in September, he told a Chinese financial magazine at the weekend.
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The comments highlight that the days of extraordinary monetary stimulus are nearing an end given stronger economic conditions and signs of a pick-up in inflation.
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Data on Friday showed inflation in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, hit its highest level in five years in 2017. A survey on Tuesday showed euro zone manufacturers ended 2017 by ramping up activity at the fastest pace in more than two decades.
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ECB monthly bond purchases, which have long underpinned bond yields, have fallen to 30 billion euros from 60 billion euros.
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That cut in purchases from the start of January, unveiled in October, comes just as investors brace for a hefty month of supply — a potentially powerful headwind for bond markets.
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Spain said on Tuesday it will issue bonds worth between 3.5 billion euros and 5 billion euros at a scheduled auction on Thursday.
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“While the cut in ECB asset purchases is not a surprise, there is some uncertainty as to how the markets will adjust to this in an unusually heavy month for supply,” said Rainer Guntermann, a rates strategist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
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“The more hawkish commentary from the ECB is also weighing on markets.”
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Germany’s 10-year bond yields rose 2.5 basis points to 0.46 percent, the highest since late October. German 30-year bond yields jumped almost 5 bps to 1.31 percent , their highest since mid-November, before dropping to 1.24 percent by late trading.
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In Italy, where borrowing costs rose last week after the president called a general election for March 4, 10-year bond yields extended their rise to a two-month high above 2 percent, going up nearly 10 bps by the afternoon.
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That pushed that gap over German equivalents to around 165 bps, its widest since Oct. 19. Spanish and Portuguese bond spreads also widened against Germany in a sign that investors were reducing their exposure to southern European bond markets.
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“The widening in peripheral spreads shows that the market is concluding that the recent spread tightening is inconsistent with a more hawkish ECB,” said Peter Chatwell, head of rates strategy at Mizuho.
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Analysts said Portuguese five-year bonds were also coming under pressure from expectations of a syndicated bond deal of this maturity next week.
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Most other euro zone bond yields were up 2-4 basis points, with trade subdued after Monday’s New Year’s holiday. There was also some caution ahead of the implementation on Jan. 3 of the wide-ranging EU financial markets directive known as MiFID II.

Portugal Asks for Help From Europe to Fight Fires — Thousands of firemen currently engaged — Portugal’s worst fire disaster in memory

August 13, 2017

LISBON — More than 3,000 firemen struggled to put out forest fires across Portugal on Sunday, after the country requested assistance from Europe to fight blazes that threaten to spread with more hot weather in the coming days.

Exceptionally dry and hot weather ignited Portugal’s worst fire disaster in memory early this summer, killing 64 people, and fires have continued to flare up in recent weeks with the arrival of each new hotter spell of weather.

Interior Minister Constanca Urbana de Sousa said the country sent the request for help to Europe late on Saturday because of concerns that high temperatures and high winds in the coming days could increase the number of fires.

Firefighters in June tried to bring a fire under control in a valley near Góis, Portugal. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The minister said the request was carried out “because of a question of prudence” due to the weather forecast for coming days, according to news agency Lusa. It covered requests for firefighting airplanes and firemen and is part of a European mechanism for cooperation to fight fires.

Emergency services said 268 fires broke out on Saturday, the highest number for any single day this year, with 6,500 firemen fighting to put them out. There are fears that many of them could flare up again later on Sunday, with higher winds and temperatures that hit in the afternoon.

The central district of Coimbra adopted a local state of emergency to deal with fires, as did four smaller municipalities in the region.

While fires have burned through the summer none has had the tragic impact of the one in late June, as emergency services have gone to far greater efforts to evacuate villages and shut roads early in affected areas.

But the country could face many more weeks of fires before the end of summer.

More than 140,000 hectares of forest have burned this summer in Portugal, more than three times higher than the average over the last 10 years, according to European Union data.

(Reporting By Axel Bugge; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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Portugal Forest Fires Worsen, Fed by Poor Choices and Inaction

Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires

June 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Laurence COUSTAL | Heat waves have become more frequent in Portugal, say experts

PARIS (AFP) – Highly exposed to global warming’s climate-altering impacts, Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires such as the one — still raging — that has killed at least 60 people this weekend, experts say.- Why Portugal, why now? –

The Iberian peninsula encompassing Portugal and Spain is experiencing a warmer, drier June than usual, explains Thomas Curt, a researcher at France’s Irstea climate and agriculture research institute.

Added to that, the country has vast expanses of highly inflammable plants, including forests of pine and eucalyptus trees.

“Hotter air is synonymous with drier and more inflammable vegetation,” said Curt. “The more the mercury climbs, so does the risk of fires and their intensity.”

Temperatures in the region have warmed by more than the global average over the past half century, according to a 2014 review of climate change impacts on Portugal.

Heat waves have become more frequent, and annual rainfall slightly less, said the review published in the journal WIREs Climate Change.

More frequent and pronounced heat waves are expected in future, accompanied by a “substantial increase” in fire risk — “both in severity and in length of the fire season,” it said.

– Does global warming boost forest fire risk? –

“It is certain — we are experiencing a rise in temperatures,” said Curt.

The Northern hemisphere summer has lengthened over the past 50 years from July-to-August, to June-to-October now — meaning a longer fire risk season.

There has been an increase in major fires of more than 100 hectares, and so-called “megafires” of more than 1,000 hectares, the researcher added.

“It is truly a growing problem everywhere in the world, and notably in Mediterranean Europe.”

These mega blazes remain rare — only about 2-3 percent of all fires — but are responsible for about three-quarters of all surface burnt.

“Many analyses of climate change show that these major fires will become more and more likely,” said Curt.

– What to do? –

In the short term, reinforce firefighting capacity, deploy patrols, set up watchtowers to raise the alarm, and ban fire-making everywhere.

Over the longer term, human settlements and green areas will need to be substantially redesigned, experts say.

Some forest will have to be cut back, undergrowth cleared, and residential areas moved further from scrubland and forest borders, to reduce the risk to life and property.

“The focus of efforts should shift from combating forest fires as they arise to preventing them from existing, through responsible long-term forest management,” green group WWF said.

“Responsible forest management is more effective and financially more efficient than financing the giant firefighting mechanisms that are employed every year.”

In the yet longer term, added Curt, “of course, we need to curtail global warming itself.”

by Laurence COUSTAL

Deadly wildfires around the world

June 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP | One of Australia’s worst wildfires killed around 173 people in 2009

PARIS (AFP) – Portuguese firefighters kept up the battle Sunday after one of the worst wildfire disasters in recent history killed at least 62 people.Here is a rundown of some of the deadliest wildfires around the world over the past two centuries.

– Australia –

In February 2009, at least 173 people die in brush fires in the south east, notably in the state of Victoria where entire towns and more than 2,000 houses are destroyed. The fires lasts several weeks before being contained by thousands of firemen and volunteers. It is one of the worst fires ever recorded in Australia.

– China –

In May 1987, the deadliest forest fire in recent Chinese history kills 119 in the northeast of the country, injuring 102 and leaving 51,000 homeless.

– France –

In August 1949, in the southwest Landes region, 82 rescue workers are killed. The victims — firemen, volunteers and soldiers — are caught in a ball of fire after the winds suddenly changed direction.

– Greece –

In 2007, 77 people die at the end of August in unprecedented forest fires that ravaged 250,000 hectares (2,500 square kilometres) in the southern Peloponnese and the island of Evia, northeast of Athens. The fires are the worst recorded in Greece in recent years.

– Portugal –

In June 2017, a fire roars through Portugal’s central Leiria region, killing at least 62 people and injuring over 50 more.

In 1966, a fire in the forest of Sintra, west of Lisbon, kills 25 soldiers fighting the blaze.

– Russia –

Around 60 people die between July and August 2010 as fires rage in over a million hectares of forest, bogs and brushwood, burning entire villages in the western part of the country during an unprecedented heatwave and drought.

– United States –

Likely the country’s deadliest, a wildfire struck Peshtigo, Wisconsin in October 1871, killing between 800 and 1,200 people. The fire had been burning for several days before it ripped into the forested village with a population of 1,700, destroying it in a matter of hours. It also damaged 16 other villages and destroyed 500,000 hectares of land.

Related:

Portugal forest fires kill 43, many burn to death in their cars

June 18, 2017

Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 11:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 5:34pm

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 43 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Sunday called “the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years”

The death toll initially stood at 25 in the early morning and the updated figure was given by public broadcaster RTP said the death toll, citing Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes.

The fatalities occurred in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 150 kilometres northeast of Lisbon, where about 600 firefighters have been trying to put out the fires since Saturday, Gomes said.

Gomes said that at least 16 people were killed when their vehicles were engulfed by flames on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.

 Firefighters rest during the wildfire. Photo: AFP

No information was immediately given on how the others were killed.

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

Spanish state television showed terrifying images from the neighbouring country of several people on a road trying to escape the intense smoke that had reduced visibility to a question of a few meters. A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road.

Local resident Isabel Brandao said that she had feared for her life.

 Firefighters work to contain the forest fire. Photo: EPA

“Yesterday we saw the fire but thought it was very far. I never thought it would come to this side,” she said.

“At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again. We were afraid the fire would reach us.”

RTP said there are at least another 20 people injured, including six firefighters. Fourteen of the injured were in serious condition, RTP said.

Dry thunderstorms could have been the cause of the fatal blaze, according to the prime minister.

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

 A firefighter helps a woman during the forest fire. Photo: EPA

“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande.

“I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”

Costa said that firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching the area because the fire was “very intense.”

He added that Portuguese authorities were working on identifying the victims and that Spanish rescuers would assist in efforts to control the blazes.

 Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (L) embraces Secretary of State of Internal Administration Jorge Gomes. Photo: EPA

Costa said that while investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the fire, authorities believe that the high temperatures of 40 Celsius in recent days may have played a part.

Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires last year which devastated more than 1,000 square kilometres of the mainland.

Fires on the tourist island of Madeira in August killed three people, while over the course of 2016 around 40 homes were destroyed and 5,400 hectares of land burned.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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The Latest: Portugal Forest Fire Death Toll Rises to 39 — “Still could be more dead”

June 18, 2017

LISBON, Portugal — The Latest on Portugal forest fires (all times local):

8:25 a.m.

A Portuguese interior ministry official says that the death toll in the forest fires raging in central Portugal has increased to 39.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes has been quoted as giving the new figure on public broadcaster RTP. Government officials say many of victims died in their cars when flames swept over a road.

About 600 firefighters are fighting blazes that are raging in the Pedrogao Grande area about 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of Lisbon.

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This item has been corrected to show that Jorge Gomes is an Interior Ministry official, not interior minister.

___

4:35 a.m.

Portuguese radio station TSF says the Interior Ministry has confirmed that 25 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal.

Government officials say many of victims died in their cars when flames swept over a road.

About 600 firefighters are fighting blazes that are raging in the Pedrogao Grande area about 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of Lisbon.

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BBC News

A catastrophic forest fire in Portugal has claimed at least 43 lives, officials say.

Many died while trying to flee the Pedrógão Grande area, 50 km (30 miles) south-east of Coimbra, in their cars, according to the government.

Several firefighters are among the 59 people injured.

“Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

The death toll could rise further, he said.

Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said that three people died from smoke inhalation and 18 people travelling in four cars died on the road linking Figueiró dos Vinhos to Castanheira de Pera.

Flames raging around a road in Pedrógão Grande

Media in Portugal said the fire is no closer to being contained despite about 600 firefighters working to put them out. EPA photo

Among the 59 injured was an eight-year-old girl with burns found wandering alone close to the fire, the Correio do Manhã newspaper reported.

Six firefighters are seriously wounded, national broadcaster RTP said, and two are reported missing.

The Correio do Manhã warned that many areas hit by the fire had not yet been reached by authorities, so the death toll was likely to increase.

A house on fire near Pedrógão Grande
A number of houses near Pedrógão Grande have been destroyed. EPA Photo

About 60 forest fires broke out across the country overnight, with close to 1,700 firefighters battling them across Portugal.

The flames spread “with great violence” on four fronts near Pedrógão Grande, Mr Gomes said.

Spain has sent two water-bombing planes to help tackle the fires.

It is not yet known what caused the fire, however Mr Costa said thunderstorms could have been one possible cause.

Portugal has been experiencing a heatwave, with temperatures of more than 40C (104F) in some areas.

“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Valdemar Alves, the mayor of Pedrógão Grande, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press agency.

“I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”

Firefighters rest during a wildfire at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal, on June 18, 2017
Firefighters pause as the wildfire continues behind them. AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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25 dead from huge forest fires in Portugal

June 18, 2017

AP and France 24

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© Screengrab, FRANCE 24 | Portuguese firefighters

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-06-18

At least 25 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, officials said early Sunday.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said the deaths occurred in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) northeast of Lisbon, where some 600 firefighters are trying to put out the fires since Saturday.

Gomes said 16 people were killed in their cars on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.

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19 people died on the road surrounded by fire and many more are injured.
People are losing their homes and memories.
Portugal needs help!

Public broadcaster RTP said there were about 20 injured, including six firefighters. Fourteen of the injured were in serious condition, RTP said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it “the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years.” He said Portuguese authorities were working on identifying the victims and that Spanish rescuers would assist in efforts to control the blazes.

Televised images showed a huge wall of bright red flames leaping over the top of trees in the wooded region.

Portugal has suffered high temperatures that have reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degress Fahrenheit) in recent days.

The southern European country is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

(AP)

Thousands greet Pope Francis in Portugal for canonisation

May 13, 2017

AFP

© PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP | Pope Francis prays in front of a figure representing Our Lady of Fatima during his visit to the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Fatima shrine, in Fatima on May 12, 2017

Pope Francis called for harmony “among all people” Friday after arriving at Portugal’s holy site of Fatima where he was greeted by thousands of pilgrims gathered to mark 100 years since child shepherds had visions of the Virgin Mary.

The Argentine pontiff flew into the central Portuguese town on board a helicopter, circling twice over a giant, 400,000-capacity, esplanade that faces the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima to enthusiastic cheering.

Disembarking in a nearby stadium, he set off in his “Popemobile” for a journey through town followed closely by hovering helicopters, ending up at the sanctuary where pilgrims from all over the world had been waiting eagerly for hours.

WHY IS POPE FRANCIS IN FATIMA?

The giant esplanade fell silent while he prayed privately in the Chapel of the Apparitions, built on the very spot where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared six times between May and October 1917 to three impoverished, barely-literate children.

“I implore for concord among all people,” he then said in Portuguese, in comments broadcast across the holy site.

Pilgrims from countries as varied as China, Venezuela and East Timor listened intently, some crying, the flags they had been waving enthusiastically just moments before standing motionless.

“In the joy of the Gospel, we will be the Church robed in white, the whiteness washed in the blood of the Lamb, blood that today too is shed in the wars tearing our world apart,” he added.

Candle-lit blessing

“The pope is incredible — the way he talks and brings so many people together. It’s really moving,” said Mariana Teixeira, a 20-year-old student from Lisbon as the pontiff stepped into the Popemobile again.

As night fell, the esplanade and neighbouring streets lit up with candles held by the faithful as the pope blessed the crowd.

Unity and peace were the day’s themes in Fatima, where some Catholic faithful sought solace from the stress or violence of their daily lives.

“We are going to pray to Fatima and Pope Francis so that they can intervene for a peaceful solution for Venezuela,” said Jose Ornelas, a 59-year-old librarian who came all the way from Caracas, which along with other cities has been wracked by deadly anti-regime protests.

“We are living in a violent spiral with so much hate and so much helplessness.”

‘Miracle’ boy

Fatima has become a major holy site since the Virgin is said to have appeared in 1917 to Jacinta, seven, Francisco, nine, and their cousin Lucia, 10.

She apparently shared three major prophecies with them at a time marked by the ravages of World War I and persecution of the Church in a relatively new Portuguese republic.

These reportedly included a warning of a second war.

On Saturday — the 100th anniversary of the first reported apparition — Pope Francis will canonise Jacinta and Francisco, who have officially been credited with two miracles.

Tears and joy

Many pilgrims trekked to Fatima for days on foot — some finishing the last few metres on their knees.

And while the atmosphere was one of joy, emotions ran high and difficult memories bubbled to the surface.

Dung Lu, a refugee from Vietnam living in Denmark, said she and her mother fled their country in the late 1980s, partly because they were unable to practise their religion under the communist regime.

With tears in her eyes, she remembered praying to the Virgin Mary when she was still in Vietnam and her father was jailed after the war and then fled the country, leaving them behind. They were later reunited.

Standing nearby, her young daughter interrupted her, asking why she was crying.

“It’s difficult to tell them how hard it was. They (were) born in freedom,” she said.

Pope Francis is the fourth pontiff to make a pilgrimage to Fatima in half a century.

Arguably the most devoted was the late Pope John Paul II, who attributed his narrow escape from an assassination attempt at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 — the anniversary of the first reported apparition — to the intervention of the Virgin Mary.

(AFP)

Related:

Major cyber attack hits companies, hospitals, schools worldwide

May 13, 2017

Reuters

Sat May 13, 2017 | 2:18am EDT

By  Costas Pitas and Carlos Ruano | LONDON/MADRID
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A global cyber attack leveraging hacking tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency has infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries, disrupting Britain’s health system and global shipper FedEx.

Image result for FedEx, aircraft, photos

Cyber extortionists tricked victims into opening malicious malware attachments to spam emails that appeared to contain invoices, job offers, security warnings and other legitimate files.

The ransomware encrypted data on the computers, demanding payments of $300 to $600 to restore access. Security researchers said they observed some victims paying via the digital currency bitcoin, though they did not know what percent had given in to the extortionists.

Researchers with security software maker Avast said they had observed 57,000 infections in 99 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets.

Asian countries reported no major breaches on Saturday, but officials in the region were scrambling to check and the full extent of the damage may not be known for some time.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said some secondary schools and universities had been affected, without specifying how many or identifying them.

The most disruptive attacks were reported in Britain, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers on Friday.

International shipper FedEx Corp said some of its Windows computers were also infected. “We are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible,” it said in a statement.

FROM ARGENTINA TO SPAIN

Only a small number of U.S.-headquartered organizations were hit because the hackers appear to have begun the campaign by targeting organizations in Europe, said Vikram Thakur, research manager with security software maker Symantec.

By the time they turned their attention to the United States, spam filters had identified the new threat and flagged the ransomware-laden emails as malicious, Thakur added.

Infections of the worm appeared to have fallen off significantly after a security researcher bought a domain that the malware was connecting to, by chance undermining the malware’s effectiveness.

An ambulance waits outside the emergency department at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, Britain May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Making the domain active appears to have stunted the spread of the worm, Thakur said on Saturday.

“The numbers are extremely low and coming down fast,” he said, while cautioning that any change in the original code could lead the worm to flare up again.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said late on Friday it was aware of reports of the ransomware, was sharing information with domestic and foreign partners and was ready to lend technical support.

Telecommunications company Telefonica was among many targets in Spain, though it said the attack was limited to some computers on an internal network and had not affected clients or services. Portugal Telecom and Telefonica Argentina both said they were also targeted.

An ambulance waits outside the emergency department at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, Britain May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
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Private security firms identified the ransomware as a new variant of “WannaCry” that had the ability to automatically spread across large networks by exploiting a known bug in Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

The hackers, who have not come forward to claim responsibility or otherwise been identified, likely made it a “worm”, or self spreading malware, by exploiting a piece of NSA code known as “Eternal Blue” that was released last month by a group known as the Shadow Brokers, researchers with several private cyber security firms said.

“This is one of the largest global ransomware attacks the cyber community has ever seen,” said Rich Barger, director of threat research with Splunk, one of the firms that linked WannaCry to the NSA.

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TECHNOLOGY NHS 160396

The Shadow Brokers released Eternal Blue as part of a trove of hacking tools that they said belonged to the U.S. spy agency.

Microsoft said it was pushing out automatic Windows updates to defend clients from WannaCry. It issued a patch on March 14 to protect them from Eternal Blue.

“Today our engineers added detection and protection against new malicious software known as Ransom:Win32.WannaCrypt,” Microsoft said in a statement on Friday, adding it was working with customers to provide additional assistance.

SENSITIVE TIMING

The spread of the ransomware capped a week of cyber turmoil in Europe that began the previous week when hackers posted a trove of campaign documents tied to French candidate Emmanuel Macron just before a run-off vote in which he was elected president of France.

On Wednesday, hackers disrupted the websites of several French media companies and aerospace giant Airbus.Also, the hack happened four weeks before a British general election in which national security and the management of the state-run National Health Service (NHS) are important issues.

Authorities in Britain have been braced for cyber attacks in the run-up to the vote, as happened during last year’s U.S. election and on the eve of the French vote.

But those attacks – blamed on Russia, which has repeatedly denied them – followed a different modus operandi involving penetrating the accounts of individuals and political organizations and then releasing hacked material online.

On Friday, Russia’s interior and emergencies ministries, as well as its biggest bank, Sberbank, said they were targeted. The interior ministry said on its website that about 1,000 computers had been infected but it had localized the virus.

Sberbank head office.jpg

Sberbank

The emergencies ministry told Russian news agencies it had repelled the cyber attacks while Sberbank said its cyber security systems had prevented viruses from entering its systems.

NEW BREED OF RANSOMWARE

Although cyber extortion cases have been rising for several years, they have to date affected small-to-mid sized organizations, disrupting services provided by hospitals, police departments, public transport systems and utilities in the United States and Europe.

“Seeing a large telco like Telefonica get hit is going to get everybody worried. Now ransomware is affecting larger companies with more sophisticated security operations,” said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer with cyber security firm Veracode.

The news is also likely to embolden extortionists when selecting targets, Chris Camacho, chief strategy officer with cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint, said.

In Spain, some big firms took pre-emptive steps to thwart ransomware attacks following a warning from the National Cryptology Center of “a massive ransomware attack”.

Iberdrola and Gas Natural, along with Vodafone’s unit in Spain, asked staff to turn off computers or cut off internet access in case they had been compromised, representatives from the firms said.

The attacks did not disrupt the provision of services or networks operations of the victims, the Spanish government said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle, Eric Auchard, Jose Rodriguez, Alistair Smout, Andrea Shalal, Jack Stubbs, Antonella Cinelli, Dustin Volz, Kate Holton, Andy Bruce, Michael Holden, David Milliken, Rosalba O’Brien, Julien Toyer, Tim Hepher, Luiza Ilie, Patricia Rua, Axel Bugge, Sabine Siebold and Eric Walsh, Engen Tham; Editing by Rob Birsel and Mike Collett-White)

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