Australia: The Premier of New South Wales has given full emergency powers to the State's bushfires commissioner, as fires intensify across the State. Bushfire commissioner Phil Koperberg has confirmed two firefighters have died in blazes this afternoon but their names have not yet been released.
Police say a fire front is moving rapidly towards the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor site. But they say a large area surrounding the facility has been cleared and the complex is not in any immediate danger.
Hot winds and extremely high humidity have made the situation worse this afternoon. The worst spots include the town of Lithgow, west of Sydney, which is under threat from fires, the Coonabarabran area in the State's north and at Menai, in Sydney's south, where fires have already claimed several residential properties.
Mr Koperberg says 129 fires are burning across the State, with 1,000 firefighters on the ground. Bushfires in south-western Sydney have been described by crews as equal in severity to the fires of 1994. Nine houses are confirmed lost in Barnes Street, Menai, which fronts bushland in which the fire burnt for several days before breaking containment lines as winds blew up this afternoon.
A number of houses are believed to have been lost in nearby streets but officials are still to assess the total damage. Crews are now working on a strategy of attacking spot fires in the suburb and water from backyard swimming pools is being used in the effort. Much of the work is damping down hot-spots but a strong westerly wind continues to blow.
In Sydney's northern suburbs, the Hornsby Rural Fire Service says it is establishing perimeters around the fire burning at the Comenara Parkway and Land Cove National Park in the Thornleigh area The service says it is working hard to have the fire contained by 7:00pm, as a forecast weather change could threaten a Nornamhurst nursing home.
Fires in the Blue Mountains have been contained,
and outbreaks in Hawkesbury, Wyong and Gosford are under control. Mr Koperberg
says several towns in the north-west of the State are now under threat.
A major highway south of Sydney is now closed, along with numerous suburban roads in the city's south and north. The Police Traffic Control centre says all traffic is being turned back from the approaches to the suburbs of Bangor and Menai in the south.
The Princes Highway is closed between Mount Ousley
and Mount Bulli, with traffic being diverted down the Bulli Pass to Wollongong.
Some roads in the Blue Mountains are closed, as well as the Conemarra Parkway
in northern Sydney.
UNITED NATIONS : Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the UN Security Council on Monday to consider increasing the amount of money Iraq can raise to buy food and medicines, saying current levels have done little to ease the suffering of ordinary Iraqis.
"Given the scale of urgent humanitarian requirements in Iraq, the Security Council may wish to re-examine the adequacy of the revenues as envisaged by resolutions 986 (1995) and 1111 (1997) and to consider the possibility of increasing those revenue to meet Iraq's priority humanitarian requirements," Annan said in a written report to the council.
``I regret to report ... the population of Iraq continues to face a serious nutritional and health situation and there is an urgent need to contain the risk of a further deterioration,'' Annan said in a report to the council. He blamed the slow pace at which humanitarian supplies arrive in the country for the increasing risk to the health of the Iraqi people. But he also noted that even if all supplies arrived on time, they would still not be enough to satisfy the needs of the people.
Annan said the current food ration ``even if it is distributed completely and in a timely manner, cannot address the chronic malnutrition and energy deficiency'' in adults as well as children. ``Given the scale of urgent humanitarian requirements in Iraq, the Security Council may wish to re-examine the adequacy of the revenues ... and to consider the possibility of increasing those revenues to meet Iraq's priority humanitarian requirements,'' Annan wrote.
Under the UN's "oil-for-food" two-thirds of the revenue goes to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. Of the two billion dollars' worth of oil through a UN account $300 million is deducted for Gulf war reparations and around $150 million dollars earmarked for relief operations to the northern Kurdish areas. Part of the proceeds of the deal are also used to to finance U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. The second phase of the humanitarian scheme expires on Friday.
Commentators say the US is likely to block any increase according to the BBC's UN correspondent, Rob Watson, who says that the Clinton administration is likely to block the move for fear it will be accused by right-wing critics in Washington of rewarding President Saddam Hussein.
In Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf said the United Nations was quick to transfer funds to war reparations and weapons monitoring but slow to approve purchases of humanitarian goods. Al-Sahhaf said at a news conference broadcast by CNN that his government wants ``some kind of simultaneity or parallelness'' in the money transfers. "The previous experience is very worrying," said Sahhaf, adding that "more than 80 contracts are still pending because of the American policy of procrastination and delaying."
Al-Sahhaf said Iraq has asked Annan to change the procedures for approving contracts to remove them from the sanctions committee.``We have suggested to the Secretary-General that there should be a change in the procedural work of the the 661 (sanctions) committee,'' Sahaf said. He said Iraq asked for this change ...''so that any member of that committee has not the right either to suspend or reject any contract.'' He said Iraq had ``received commitments'' that that the program ``will not be the same'' in the next phase.
Iraq's economic crisis, he added, also was taking a grave toll on the educational system. Only 68 percent of 6-year-olds started school in 1996. He said $18 million of the oil revenues were allocated to the educational system during the first year of the oil-for-food program. But that will meet only 15 percent to 20 percent of the needs for books, desks and school repairs.
INA reported last week that Iraq was not opposed in principle to the renewal of the ' accord. However, it still viewed the arrangement as a temporary measure which in no way replaced efforts to secure the full lifting of the oil embargo as quickly as possible.
The U.N. Children's Fund reported last week that about 960,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition. Annan's report said the problem also affects all other segments of Iraqi society. For example, Annan said one-quarter of Iraqi men and women under 26 are malnourished. He said the Security Council also should review the ``nutritional value'' of the food provided to Iraqis.
Annan acknowledged that the program has been fraught with logistical and administrative problems. Each contract for delivery of humanitarian goods must be approved by the U.N. Sanctions Committee with Washington holding up some contracts for petty errors in paperwork to increase pressure on Iraq's government.
In his report, Annan referred to the difficulties
in shipping goods to a country under a strict embargo, causing supplies
to arrive irregularly. Annan said the Iraqi government had cooperated with
U.N. officials managing the program. But they often encounter hostility
from ordinary Iraqis angry at ``late and erratic arrival of foodstuffs
as well as complaints of the quality and quantity,'' he said.
DAMASCUS, - Syria renewed its opposition to any military action against Iraq and expressed support for Iraq's calls to remove sanctions imposed on Baghdad
The leadership of the National Progressive Front (NPF), the ruling coalition led by the Baath party, in a statement after a Saturday night meeting also indirectly criticized the United States for its position on Iraq. NPF's meeting was chaired by Zuheir Masharqa, vice-president and deputy NPF chief.
It said the NPF expressed support for Iraq's calls to remove sanctions imposed on Baghdad . "Syria is keen to see the removal of all hardships imposed on the Iraqi people as a result of the implementation of sanctions...," the statement said.
"Any military action against Iraq will not solve the problem but will further complicate it especially that justifications for such an action no longer exist," the statement said.
In a snipe at Washington, the NPF statement said: "The double standard policy adopted by some countries is wrong and will harm principles set for dealing among countries. It will also harm international organizations whose decisions should be compulsory."
A British eavesdropping site on the south side of Hong Kong island, which once had five radio dishes for intercepting mainland communications has moved to Australia says Hong Hong newspaper.
The facility at Chung Hom Kok and its Chinese-language experts moved to Geraldton in Western Australia where sensitive electronic equipment listens in on Chinese communications relayed by satellite, South China Morning Post said on Sunday.
All structures were dismantled to prevent Chinese intelligence officers from gaining any insight into its operations prior to China recovering sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, ending 156 years of British colonial rule, the newspaper said
"When pursuing what is taking place an accurate observer will easily notice the similarity between what happened before the 30-state aggression on Iraq and what is happening now," the government newspaper al-Jumhouriya said in a front-page editorial.
Jumhouriya said the U.S. administration was under pressure from American media and experts, after the failure of its Iraq policy in the past, to "do what George Bush and Clinton could not do, that is the settling of the conflict with Iraq militarily once and for all."
Jumhouriya said although regional and international conditions were different from those in 1991, the U.S. went ahead with its military buildup. It said Washington was resorting to "a campaign of lies and distortion" to persuade Congress and world public opinion that Iraq still posed "a deadly threat" to the world.
Iraq announced on Saturday that it had accepted in principle an extension
of its oil-for-food deal with the United Nations allowing it to export
oil worth $2 billion over six months to buy food and other essentials.
"Iraq does not object, in principle, to the renewal of the agreement for (selling) oil in return for food, medicine and other humanitarian needs with the United Nations," a spokesman for the Iraqi Culture and Information ministry said in a statement reported by the official news agency INA.
The spokesman said Baghdad still viewed the scheme as a temporary measure and not a substitute for the removal of all curbs on the country's oil exports, imposed as part of sweeping 1990 sanctions
BAGHDAD: An American activist group Voices in the Wilderness, urged the world community Saturday to put an end to the suffering of the Iraqi people by lifting 7-year-old U.N. sanctions.
"Please let the government of Iraq feed its people," Bert Sacks told a news conference in Baghdad. Sacks, a 55-year-old engineer from Seattle, told the international media that his group, founded in January 1996 and based in Chicago, was a civil disobedience group "that is violating sanctions to bring medicine" to the Iraqi people.
He and three other members arrived in Baghdad 10 days ago with eight large U.S. mail bags that they said contained $40,000 worth of medicine - "which would last a half-hour in Iraq," Sacks said.
"What we brought is a drop in a bucket. ...The aim is to publicize that we are violating the sanctions. We think they are wrong and immoral. You can't use the lives of thousands of people to coerce or intimidate a government. Every day, several hundred children die in order to pressure Iraq," Sacks said.
The American group delivered medical supplies to two hospitals in the Iraqi capital Baghdad where basic medicines and cash are in short supply.
Dan Handleman told CNN in Baghdad Tuesday he was critical of the international community's policy on Iraq. "I think it is ironic that there are weapons inspectors here looking for weapons of mass destruction, when they need look no further than the U.S.-U.N. economic sanctions. That is a weapon of mass destruction," Handleman said.
The sanctions have devastated the economy and U.N. monitors report a food shortage.UNICEF reported Wednesday that nearly 1 million Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition despite recent exemptions in the embargo. Iraqi television showed mothers in Baghdad weeping Wednesday over children they said died from a lack of food and medicine.
During an 80-minute speech on Friday, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan accused President Clinton and Congress of antagonizing Iraq, Iran and other Muslim nations.
He attacked Americans who think Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should be assassinated. During the Cold War, "I never heard that (Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev should be assassinated,'' or any of his successors."I don't know who advises the president, but he needs better advisers'' on the subject, Farrakhan told hundreds of followers late Friday at a Baptist church.
He said the showdown between U.N. inspectors and Iraq over what the United States says are a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons there has been especially mishandled. Muslims, he explained, believe that being persecuted is worse than death, and are willing to die for their beliefs.
Americans generally misunderstand Muslims, who believe persecution is
worse than death, and would rather die than give in to American demands,
he said. Sanctions and threats of force on nations like Iraq and Libya
have punished the wrong people - children, Farrakhan said.
"You can bomb Iraq if that's what you want to do,'' Farrakhan said, speaking directly to Clinton and other U.S. leaders he did not name. "But remember this: With every Iraqi baby that dies, and with every bomb that falls, the Muslim world becomes more angry and more hateful of American foreign policy.''
``And so, America, with deep respect, I would like to demonstrate how diplomacy and friendly relations should be carried out,'' Farrakhan said on the eve of embarking on a three-month tour of 50-nation "friendship tour.''
Farrakhan will depart Sunday. His full itinerary was not released, but Farrakhan said the trip will include stops in Iran, Iraq and Palestine, then to Central Asia, China, Africa, Australia, South America and Cuba. Farrakhan said he would end the tour in Canada in late February.