Veraval, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — Authorities evacuated nearly 300,000 people from India's western coastline ahead of a very severe cyclone that's expected to make landfall on Thursday as the year's second major storm.
The India Meteorological Department says Cyclone Vayu, named after the Hindi word for wind, could possibly just scrape by the western state of Gujarat instead of hitting it head on in the afternoon before returning to the Arabian Sea.
In Veraval, a hub of India's fishing industry where Vayu was expected to make landfall, heavy wind and rain battered the beaches. Fishing boats were splintered by huge waves crashing onto shore. Local police were making a last minute effort to convince hut dwellers to leave their homes.
Gale winds up to 180 kilometers (112 miles) per hour and rough sea conditions could last up to 12 hours in the cyclone's wake as it moves west toward Pakistan.
Pakistan's meteorological department issued an alert on Thursday, warning fishermen to stay inland this week as the cyclone could cause rough sea conditions.
The cyclone was not likely to directly impact the southern port city of Karachi, but the department said in a statement that the weather system could cause dust storms and rains in various parts of the southern Sindh province.
It said a heatwave was likely to hit Karachi on Thursday and Friday because the cyclone could stifle sea breeze, with temperatures rising to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).
The meteorological department also asked authorities to remain alert through Saturday, although the Cyclone Vayu was far away from the country's coastal areas.
Dubai, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — A U.K. maritime safety group warned Thursday of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urged "extreme caution" amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.
Iranian media claimed — without offering any evidence — that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said his command was "aware" of a reported incident in the area. He declined to elaborate.
"We are working on getting details," Frey told The Associated Press.
Benchmark Brent crude rose over 4% in trading, to over $62 a barrel after reports of the incident, according to early market figures Thursday.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified the vessel involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker. The vessel was "on fire and adrift," Dryad added. It did not offer a cause for the incident.
Iranian state television's website, citing the pro-Iran Lebanese satellite news channel Al-Mayadeen, said two oil tankers had been targeted in the Gulf of Oman. It offered no evidence to support the claim.
Emirati officials declined to immediately comment. The coordinates offered for the incident by the U.K. group put it some 45 kilometers (25 miles) off the Iranian coastline.
The maritime alert comes after what the United States has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.
Those apparent attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the critical Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.
The timing was especially sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission. On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned that any "accidental conflict" that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.
His message came just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
Abe was to meet with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a top government spokesman, told reporters that Abe's trip was intended to help de-escalate tensions in the Mideast — but not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington.
His remarks were apparently meant to downplay and lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe's mission.
Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.
Dubai, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — The leader of Japan is visiting Iran to warn that an "accidental conflict" could be sparked amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered that message just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.
Abe's trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers. The Trump administration pulled out of the accord last year.
Success may prove difficult for Abe, as the Houthi rebel attack on Saudi Arabia's Abha regional airport underscored. The attack is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underlined a joint commitment to finding peaceful solutions to the standoff over Iran as she meets with one of Tehran's most prominent regional rivals.
Germany is one of the signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that is trying to salvage the agreement following the United States' withdrawal and amid increasing impatience in Tehran. Germany's foreign minister visited Iran Monday.
Merkel met Wednesday with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf kingdom's de facto ruler and a critic of Iran. She said that, although their countries hold partly diverging views, "the will to reach peaceful solutions unites us."
The crown prince didn't mention Iran in a brief statement to reporters on his wide-ranging talks with Merkel in Berlin. The leaders took no questions.
The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on an Iraq-based affiliate of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
The Treasury Department says the penalties target the South Wealth Resources Company in Baghdad and two executives. The U.S. says the company and the two men are linked to the Guard's foreign wing, or Quds Force.
The administration last month designated the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, which makes providing the Guard with material support illegal under U.S. law.
The new sanctions freeze any assets that the targets may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them.
The announcement comes as Japan's prime minister visits Iran in an effort to lower tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling for "more patience" amid tensions between Iran and the U.S.
Abe made the comments Wednesday night beside President Hassan Rouhani after closed-door talks during his visit to Tehran.
Abe says he and Rouhani "bluntly discussed" the crisis.
The Japanese premier added: "There is possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs."
Rouhani earlier said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions. Abe did not acknowledge that in his remarks.
Rouhani added: "Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world."
Iran's president says the Islamic Republic does not seek war with the U.S., but will give "a crushing response" if it is attacked.
Rouhani made the comment Wednesday night as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood by him.
Rouhani also said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions.
Rouhani added: "Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world."
The Japanese leader is in Tehran on a mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The Trump administration has re-imposed heavy sanctions on Iran after deciding to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a year ago. The U.S. recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.
Yemeni officials say that the Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes against a Houthi rebel stronghold in the country's north.
They say the strikes hit targets in the Baqim district, in the province of Saada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
The Wednesday airstrikes came hours after the Iranian-allied rebels launched a cruise missile hitting an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.
The rebel-linked Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed that the Saudi-led forces also bombed civilian areas in another nearby district.
Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition supporting Yemen's internationally recognized government and fighting the Houthi rebels since March 2015.
Ramstein Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — The Islamic State group in Afghanistan is a "very worrisome" threat to the United States, and U.S. counterterrorism efforts have yet to shrink its extremist ambitions, a senior American general said Wednesday.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said IS would be hard pressed, however, to carry out an attack on the U.S. homeland because it is under strong military pressure.
"ISIS in Afghanistan certainly has aspirations to attack the United States," McKenzie said. "It is our clear judgment that as long as we maintain pressure on them it will be hard for them to do that."
McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command with responsibility for managing American military operations across the greater Middle East, spoke in Germany with reporters returning home with him from an eight-day trip that took him to Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. He also spent two days aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea.
He stopped at Germany's Ramstein air base to refuel his airplane before flying to his headquarters in Florida.
Earlier this week, the Associated Press cited U.S. and Afghan security officials In reporting that the Islamic State group in Afghanistan is expanding its footprint, recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks on the United States and other Western countries.
McKenzie, a veteran of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he believes IS in Afghanistan has not expanded its capabilities but remains a big problem.
"They are very worrisome to us" in their strongholds in eastern Afghanistan, he said, adding that combat operations have failed to reduce the group's fighting ranks. Others have said they are thought to number in the thousands.
The Islamic State affiliate appeared in Afghanistan shortly after the group's core fighters swept across Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, carving out a self-styled Islamic empire in both countries. The Afghanistan affiliate refers to itself as the Khorasan Province, a name applied to parts of Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia in the Middle Ages.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan are combatting the Islamic State group separately from their mission of advising and assisting Afghan defense forces in their battle against the Taliban.
The Taliban and IS are sharply divided over ideology and tactics, with the Taliban largely confining their attacks to government targets and Afghan and international security forces. The Taliban and IS have fought each other on a number of occasions, and the Taliban are still the larger and more imposing force.
Quito, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — Ecuador's highest court authorized same-sex marriage Wednesday in a landmark case seeking to expand LGBT rights in the small South American nation.
The decision by the Constitutional Court came after a lengthy legal battle waged by several couples and gay rights advocates.
With the 5-to-4 ruling, Ecuador joins a handful of Latin American nations — Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay — that have legalized same-sex marriage either through judicial rulings, or less frequently, legislative action.
Plaintiff Efraín Soria told The Associated Press that he would immediately begin planning a wedding with his partner, Xavier Benalcázar, whom he met years ago and has been in a civil union since 2012.
Same-sex unions have been legal in Ecuador for a decade but civil partners enjoy fewer rights than married couples when it comes to inheritance and estate laws. In the ruling, the justices instructed congress to pass legislation ensuring equal treatment for all under the country's marriage law.
The ruling is "a joy for our entire community and Ecuador," said Soria, who is also president of the Ecuadorian Equality Foundation, an LGBT rights group.
A decision by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights affirming that countries should allow same-sex couples the right to marry paved the way for the case.