Tuguegarao, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — Typhoon Mangkhut lashed the northern Philippines with destructive winds and heavy rain that set off landslides and destroyed homes on Saturday, leaving at least 12 people dead and six missing, as southern China braced for the powerful storm.
The strongest typhoon to hit the disaster-prone Philippines this year slammed ashore before dawn in Cagayan province on the northeastern tip of Luzon island, a breadbasket that is also a region of flood-prone rice plains and mountain provinces with a history of deadly landslides.
China and the Philippines agreed to postpone a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that was to start Sunday due to the onslaught, which caused nearly 150 flights, a third of them international, to be canceled and halted sea travel.
At least three people died and six others were missing in the mountain city of Baguio after ferocious winds and rain destroyed several houses and set off landslides, which also blocked roads to the popular vacation destination, said the city's mayor, Mauricio Domogan.
Authorities were verifying the drownings of three people, including two children who reportedly died as the typhoon approached. They also were checking to see what happened to about 70 men who reportedly returned to their coastal village in Cagayan to check on their homes as the typhoon drew closer Friday, sparking concerns over possible storm surges.
Mangkhut's sustained winds weakened to 170 kilometers (105 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 260 kph (161 mph) after it sliced northwestward across Luzon then blew out to the South China Sea, aiming at southern China and Hong Kong, where residents braced for the worst.
With the weather easing, officials warned there was lingering danger.
"It's still a life and death situation," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said by phone, citing past drownings in swollen rivers in mountain provinces after storms had passed.
Storm warnings remained in effect in 10 northern provinces, including Cagayan, which could still be lashed by devastating winds, forecasters said. Thousands of people in the typhoon's path had been evacuated.
At daybreak in Cagayan's capital, Tuguegarao, Associated Press journalists saw a severely damaged public market, its roof ripped apart and wooden stalls and tarpaulin canopies in disarray. Outside a popular shopping mall, debris was scattered everywhere and government workers cleared roads of fallen trees.
Many stores and houses were damaged but most residents remained indoors as occasional gusts sent small pieces of tin sheets and other debris flying dangerously.
The Tuguegarao airport terminal was badly damaged, its roof and glass windows shattered by strong winds that also sent chairs, tables and papers flipping about inside, Lorenzana said.
The typhoon struck at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said.
A government damage assessment was underway except in areas still being battered by winds and rain. Two air force C-130 cargo planes and 10 helicopters were on standby in Manila to help transport rescuers and aid supplies.
More than 5 million people were at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center downgraded from a super typhoon. Mangkhut, however, was still punching powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a Category 4 Atlantic hurricane.
In Hong Kong, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst as the storm barreled toward the southern Chinese city.
Cathay Pacific said all of its flights would be canceled between 2:30 a.m. local time on Sunday and 4 a.m. Monday.
"Because Mangkhut will bring winds and rains of extraordinary speeds, scope and severity, our preparation and response efforts will be greater than in the past," Lee told a briefing on Friday. "Each department must have a sense of crisis, make a comprehensive assessment and plan, and prepare for the worst."
In nearby Fujian province in China, 51,000 people were evacuated from fishing boats and around 11,000 vessels returned to port on Saturday morning.
China's National Meteorological Center issued an alert saying Mangkhut would make landfall somewhere on the coast in Guangdong province on Sunday afternoon or evening.
Ferry services in the Qiongzhou Strait in southern China were halted on Saturday and helicopters and tugboats dispatched to Guangdong to transfer offshore workers to safety and warn ships about the typhoon, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Mangkhut, the Thai word for mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines.
Baghdad, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — Iraqi lawmakers have elected a Sunni Arab as speaker of parliament, the first step in forming a new government four months after national elections.
Lawmaker Ahmed al-Asadi says 169 lawmakers voted for Mohammed al-Halbousi during Saturday's session and 89 voted for former defense minister Khalid al-Obeidi.
Al-Halbousi is the former governor of Anbar province and was supported by the pro-Iran bloc inside parliament.
Early this month, parliament held its first session but failed to proceed with the process of forming a government with two Shiite-led blocs claiming to be the biggest bloc that will be tasked to form the government.
Under an unofficial agreement dating back to 2003, the prime minister position is reserved for Shiites, president a Kurd and parliament speaker a Sunni.
Beirut, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — A Syrian war monitor and a Kurdish official say members of the Islamic State group have killed 20 U.S.-backed fighters in the country's east.
The attack occurred late Friday in Deir el-Zour province where the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched a wide offensive this week to capture the last pocket held by IS in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the extremists took advantage of a sand storm to launch a counterattack, which killed 20 fighters and wounded others.
Kurdish official Ebrahim Ebrahim said the 20 were killed in an ambush by IS fighters.
The Observatory said Saturday that since the SDF launched its offensive on the IS-held pocket including the town of Hajin, 53 extremists have been killed as well as 37 U.S.-backed fighters.
Singapore, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's designated prime minister-in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim, said Saturday that he has no reason to doubt his former political nemesis will hand over the leadership position within two years as planned after sorting out deep-seated issues like corruption.
Anwar and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad put aside their 20-year feud to help their four-party alliance win elections in May, leading to the country's first change of power since independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar, 70, was convicted of sodomy in 2015 in a case that he said was politically motivated. He was freed and pardoned by the king shortly after the recent elections.
The alliance had agreed that Mahathir would be prime minister and then hand over the reins to Anwar. On Saturday, Anwar said that contesting a by-election after a lawmaker from his party resigned earlier in the week was "well within the plan" of his eventual succession, but that he was in no rush to take over.
"I think the succession plan is as agreed," Anwar said. "Let Prime Minister Mahathir conduct the affairs of the state. We support him, that's important. And I don't think we should be rushing to it, because he's playing a very critical role for the country."
"The country needs stability and a strong leader now and I want to make sure that he is effective in his position," he added.
Anwar spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore Summit, which was attended by business leaders and academics from Asia.
He said he has a close relationship with Mahathir and sees no reason to doubt his sincerity, given how he has acted in the four months since the historic electoral victory.
The government has clamped down on corruption by making the country's anti-corruption body accountable to Parliament instead of just the prime minister, Anwar said.
It also has recovered millions from the $4.5 billion that reportedly was misappropriated from the indebted 1MDB Malaysian state investment fund, he added.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing seven charges of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering involving the transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.2 million) into his bank accounts from SRC International, a former unit of the 1MDB fund.
Mahathir, 93, has endorsed Anwar's move to contest the by-election and said he would not renege on his promise to hand over power, despite not having settled on a date.
A by-election will be held in the southern coastal town of Port Dickson after a lawmaker from Anwar's party resigned to make way for his comeback. The Election Commission will set a date for the vote, which must be held within two months.
New Delhi, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — An Indian court has ruled there is enough evidence to send former U.N. climate chief Rajendra Pachauri to trial on charges of stalking and sexual harassment in a case filed by a former female colleague in New Delhi.
Ashish Dixit, a lawyer who represented Pachauri before the magistrate on Friday, said there was no case against Pachauri and he will fight the charges during the trial, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Magistrate Charu Gupta set Oct. 20 for pretrial proceedings.
Police registered the case against Pachauri after the 29-year-old female colleague accused him three years ago of sexual harassment, stalking and criminal intimidation.
"Chuffed to bits. This has not been easy," the woman told reporters after Friday's court session. "This is a big leap towards the truth. I am relieved, and exhausted fighting Pachauri."
Pachauri worked with the woman at The Energy and Resources Institute, or TERI, a New Delhi environmental think tank he had headed for more than three decades.
He has denied the allegations, but resigned from both the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and TERI after the woman's accusations were made public.
If convicted, Pachauri faces a prison sentence of two years.
Apart from the police investigation, TERI's internal complaints committee examined the evidence presented by the woman, questioned some other employees and concluded that the allegations of sexual harassment were valid.
Pachauri had chaired the U.N. climate panel — considered the world's authority on climate science — and accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on its behalf. The panel shared the award with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.