Beijing, Apr 2 (AP/UNB) — Firefighters on Tuesday had contained a blaze high in the rugged forested mountains of western China that claimed the lives of 30 of their colleagues, in one of the worst disasters for the emergency services in recent years.
State media say open flames had been extinguished and only a few areas continued to emit smoke with no further threat of the fire spreading.
The bodies of the dead firefighters were brought to the town of Xichang in Sichuan province, while three helicopters had brought in reinforcements to extinguish the blaze.
Changing winds Sunday apparently trapped the 27 firefighters and three helpers who were battling the blaze in a remote area at an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet), according to the Ministry of Emergency Management. Despite attempts at a rescue, all 30 were confirmed dead on Monday afternoon.
Most of the dead were in their 20s, although at least two were teenagers, according to state media reports. One had recently married.
China has been battling forest fires in recent weeks in various parts of the vast country, including on the outskirts of Beijing, fed by dry weather and high winds across many northern areas.
The death toll appeared to be the worst among Chinese firefighters since 2015, when an explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port of Tianjin killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and other first responders.
Sydney, Apr 2 (AP/UNB) — The Australian lawmaker who had an egg cracked on his head by a teenage boy for his comments about last month's New Zealand mosque shootings faced a stinging attack on Tuesday in the first sitting of Australia's Parliament since the attacks.
Independent Sen. Fraser Anning was the target of widespread condemnation after the Christchurch shootings, in which 50 people died, when he blamed the massacre on immigration policies that he said allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand.
Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant has been charged with murder in the shootings.
After his comments, Anning faced more criticism for physically striking the teenager who cracked an egg on his head at a Melbourne public appearance — 17-year-old Will Connolly, who became known around the world as "Egg Boy."
Anning will face an official censure motion in Parliament on Wednesday for the comments, which caused more than a million people to sign an online petition calling for his removal from the national legislature.
But when Parliament resumed in Canberra on Tuesday following a monthlong break, one senior fellow lawmaker took the opportunity to lash out at Anning.
Echoing Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's comment that Anning should be charged for striking Connolly, acting government Senate leader Simon Birmingham attacked Anning for his lack of humanity after the shootings.
"The lack of compassion you have shown demonstrates, frankly, a basic lack of basic humanity," Birmingham told Anning, adding that his conduct "betrays the rights you have to freedom of speech."
Birmingham said Anning acted in a way that would potentially fuel more acts of terrorism and violence.
"You have failed the test of character I would expect of anybody who is elected to this place," he said.
Birmingham's outburst came after Anning arrived at Parliament saying he had "no remorse" over his comments. Anning then used the Senate's question time to bring up the egging incident. He quizzed the government about its response to the episode, asking whether it believed politically motivated violence was acceptable in some circumstances.
Birmingham accused Anning of drawing a comparison between his comments about the Christchurch massacre and the egging incident, and said it was an "appalling comparison."
Wednesday's censure motion against Anning has support from both sides of Parliament.
After New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously called Anning's comments on the shootings "a disgrace," her deputy Winston Peters on Tuesday called Anning a "jingoistic moron."
"I would call him a four-flushing, jingoistic moron, but you already know that in Australia," Peters said in a television interview with Australia's Sky News.
Immediately after Anning's response to the massacre last month, Morrison said the comments were "appalling and they're ugly and they have no place in Australia."
Anning came under blistering criticism over tweets within hours of the massacre, including one that said, "Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?"
"The real cause of the bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place," he said in a later statement.
Bangkok, Apr 2 (AP/UNB) — The air hanging over Thailand's far north has become so polluted, the prime minister went Tuesday to see in person what's been called a severe health crisis.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrived by helicopter at an army base in Chiang Mai, a city that's a popular tourist destination where seasonal haze has been unusually bad and prolonged this year.
Usually the pollution has been blamed on the burning of forests in neighboring Myanmar. Adding to the problem this year are wildfires caused by a drier-than-usual dry season as well as Thai farmers and hunters clearing land.
Prayuth handed out firefighting supplies like hoes and told local military personnel and firefighters that he traveled to Chiang Mai because he wanted to show his support. He'll later meet with local officials to discuss budgets and other issues related to combatting the smog.
Standard measurements of Chiang Mai's air quality have soared way in the danger zone and remained there for many weeks. Once such measurement, PM2.5, refers to airborne fine particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter that are small enough to be sucked deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. High PM2.5 levels indicate pollution that is severe enough to cause respiratory problems and that over time may raise risks of cardiovascular disease and cancers.
Thailand's official safety limit is 50 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, higher than that suggested by the United Nations.
In recent weeks in the north, the levels have regularly been reaching four to six times the Thai safety limit, and in one case peaked at 700 mcg.
Local news reports have described efforts to get face masks to Chiang Mai residents that are capable of filtering out PM2.5 matter. A school posted photos of air cleaners installed in the building. Broadcaster Thai PBS reported Monday that officials expect foreign tourists to continue traveling there but worry domestic tourists may avoid the north during Thailand's new year holidays in mid-April.
Khuanchai Supparatpinyo, director of the Research Institute of Health Sciences at Chiang Mai University, told The Associated Press that Chiang Mai province has for over a decade has endured an annual phenomenon its locals dub "dust season."
The city, popular with tourists, is especially vulnerable because it is surrounded by mountains that trap the pollution.
The smog that usually hits from February to March accumulates due to Chiang Mai city's vehicular traffic, agricultural burning and forest fires.
Khuanchai said in recent years, "dust season" can last up to five months due to worsening conditions such as drier air and industrial farming.
In January, more than 400 schools in the capital, Bangkok, were shut for a week when the PM2.5 level was around 70 to 120 mcg. Bangkok's governor responded by declaring the city a "pollution control zone," allowing measures such as road closings and limits on diesel exhaust, outdoor burning and construction activities.
Air quality in Bangkok, Thailand's largest city, has been mostly measured at moderate levels since then, a concern mainly for people with sensitivities such as existing lung conditions.
Islamabad, Apr 2 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan and India traded fire in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, leaving seven people dead — three Pakistani soldiers, a Pakistani villager, an Indian woman and a girl and a member of the Indian paramilitary troops, officials said Tuesday.
The fatalities were some of the highest since tensions flared between the rival nuclear-armed nations after a suicide bombing killed 40 Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir in February.
Pakistan's military said Indian troops targeted its military positions overnight in the border town of Rakhchakri in Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir. Along with the three soldiers killed, a fourth was wounded, the army said. The statement added that Pakistani soldiers "responded effectively."
The Indian fire also killed a 70-year-old Pakistani villager in a remote area of Niaza Per on Monday evening, according to Pakistani police official Waheed Qureshi.
In India, the army accused Pakistani troops of firing mortars and small-arms fire Monday along the disputed frontier, the highly militarized so-called Line of Control, hitting the sector of Poonch in Indian-controlled Kashmir. It said Indian soldiers retaliated.
Indian police officer M.K. Sinha said an Indian paramilitary officer, a woman and a girl were killed while at least 18 civilians and five troops were wounded.
The cross border firing resumed on Tuesday morning, after a brief lull, he said.
Days after the Feb. 14 suicide attack in Kashmir, India launched an airstrike inside Pakistan, saying it targeted militants from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group who had claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Pakistan retaliated and said it shot down two Indian air force planes; one Indian pilot was captured and later released and handed back to India amid signs of easing tensions. Pakistan said Washington, Moscow, Beijing and Riyadh helped avert all-out fighting but tensions remained. Islamabad later claimed no Pakistani was linked to the attack and that Jaish-e-Mohammed had no training camps inside Pakistan.
The group was founded by Pakistani militant Masood Azhar after his release from prison in India in 1999 in exchange for 155 hostages held on an Indian Airlines flight hijacked in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Azhar is believed to be seriously ill, living at an undisclosed location.
Wellington, Apr 2 (AP/UNB) — New Zealand lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of new gun restrictions during the first stage of a bill they hope to rush into law by the end of next week.
The bill would ban the types of weapons a gunman used to kill 50 people at two mosques last month.
The bill was backed by both liberals and conservatives, with only a single lawmaker from the 120 that sit in Parliament voting against it. The vote was the first of three that lawmakers must pass before the bill becomes law.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said far too many people have access to dangerous guns and lawmakers were driven by the need to ensure public safety.
"We are also driven by the memory of 50 men, women and children who were taken from their loved ones on the 15th of March," Nash said. "Their memory is our responsibility. We don't ever want to see an attack like this in our country again. We are compelled to act quickly."
Seemingly drawing a distinction with the U.S., where gun possession is constitutionally protected, Nash said that in New Zealand, gun ownership remains a privilege and not a right.
Conservative lawmaker David Seymour voted against the bill, saying it was too rushed.
"Doing it in nine days before politicians go on their Easter break is starting to look more like political theater than public safety," he said.
But Seymour was so busy explaining to reporters his reasons for opposing the bill that he missed a procedural vote in which he could have tried to slow its passage.
Many New Zealanders were shocked at the firepower the gunman was able to legally obtain and favor the legislative changes.
Some are opposed. More than 14,000 have signed a petition filed in Parliament which says the law changes are "unjust" for law-abiding citizens and are being driven by emotions.
The bill would ban "military-style" semi-automatic guns and high-capacity magazines. It would also ban semi-automatic shotguns that could be fitted with detachable magazines and pump-action shotguns that can hold more than five rounds.
The bill wouldn't ban guns often used by farmers and hunters, including semi-automatic .22-caliber or smaller guns that hold up to 10 rounds, or shotguns that hold up to five rounds.