Tokyo, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) — A suspected gas explosion destroyed wooden buildings housing a restaurant and a real estate office in northern Japan on Sunday night, injuring 42 people, police and local media said.
The powerful explosion in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido, shook nearby buildings, shattered windows and scattered wooden debris across the area. Some residents told reporters they thought the blast was an earthquake.
One person was in serious condition, but police said the other injuries were mostly mild.
Police are investigating the cause of the explosion in Sapporo's Toyohira district. Kyodo news agency reported that a gas safety center official noted five propane gas tanks outside of the pub and two outside the real estate office.
The fire burned for nearly six hours, Kyodo said, and photographs and TV footage showed smoke rising above charred, collapsed debris as dozens of firefighters poured water onto the building. Windows on an apartment building next door were broken, and cars parked outside were partially covered with debris that had fallen on them.
A witness told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that he smelled gas after the sound of an explosion. It said neighbors were being provided shelter overnight.
Katowice, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) - Almost 200 nations, including the world's top greenhouse gas producers, China and the United States, have adopted a set of rules meant to breathe life into the 2015 Paris climate accord by setting out how countries should report their emissions and efforts to reduce them.
But negotiators delayed other key decisions until next year — a move that frustrated environmentalists and countries that wanted more ambitious goals in light of scientists' warnings that the world must shift sharply away from fossil fuels in the coming decade.
"The majority of the rulebook for the Paris agreement has been created, which is something to be thankful for," said Mohamed Adow, a climate policy expert at Christian Aid. "But the fact countries had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line shows that some nations have not woken up" to the dire consequences of global warming as outlined in a report by the U.N Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
Officials at the talks, which ended late Saturday in the Polish city of Katowice, agreed upon universal rules on how nations can cut emissions. Poor countries secured assurances on financial support to help them reduce emissions, adapt to changes such as rising sea levels and pay for damage that has already happened.
"Through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together," said Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official who led the talks.
While each country would likely find some parts of the agreement it did not like, he said, efforts were made to balance the interests of all parties.
"We will all have to give in order to gain," he said. "We will all have to be courageous to look into the future and make yet another step for the sake of humanity."
The talks took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. Last month, a study found that global warming will worsen disasters such as the deadly California wildfires and the powerful hurricanes that have hit the United States this year.
The recent report by the IPCC concluded that while it's possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times, doing so would require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy, including a shift away from fossil fuels.
Alarmed by efforts to include that idea in the final text of the meeting, the oil-exporting nations of the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked an endorsement of the IPCC report midway through this month's talks. That prompted uproar from vulnerable countries like small island nations and environmental groups.
The final text omitted a previous reference to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and merely welcomed the "timely completion" of the IPCC report, not its conclusions.
Johan Rockstrom, a scientist who helps to lead the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, called the agreement "a relief." The Paris deal, he said, "is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism."
His biggest concern, he said, is that the summit "failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030" to stay in line with the IPCC report.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the talks created "a solid foundation for implementation and strengthening" of the Paris agreement and could help bring the U.S. back into the deal by a future presidential administration.
One major sticking point was how to create a functioning market in carbon credits. Economists believe that an international trading system could be an effective way to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming.
But Brazil wanted to keep the piles of carbon credits it had amassed under an old system that developed countries say wasn't credible or transparent.
Among those that pushed back hardest was the United States, despite President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and his promotion of coal as a source of energy.
"Overall, the U.S. role here has been somewhat schizophrenic — pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard in the room for strong transparency rules," said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank.
The U.S. is still technically in the Paris agreement until 2020, which is why American officials participated in the Katowice talks.
When it came to closing potential loopholes that could allow countries to dodge their commitments to cut emissions, "the U.S. pushed harder than nearly anyone else for transparency rules that put all countries under the same system, and it's largely succeeded," Diringer said.
In the end, a decision on the mechanics of an emissions-trading system was postponed to next year's meeting. Countries also agreed to consider the issue of raising ambitions at a U.N. summit in New York next September.
Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna suggested there was no alternative to such meetings if countries want to tackle global problems, especially as multilateral diplomacy is under pressure from nationalism.
"The world has changed. The political landscape has changed," she told The Associated Press. "Still you're seeing here that we're able to make progress. We're able to discuss the issues. We're able to come to solutions."
Colombo, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) — Sri Lanka's president accused newly reappointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of corrupt leadership in a scathing speech Sunday in which he voiced doubts about their ability to work together and signaled the 2-month political crisis is far from resolved.
President Maithripala Sirisena administered the oath that returned Wickremesinghe to office, then gave a speech soon after the ceremony, telling the prime minister and a group of his lawmakers that he can't find people of honesty and integrity to help him take the country forward.
"With the issues we have, I am not sure what guarantees we have that we could go on this journey together," Sirisena told Wickremesinghe.
The swearing in took place privately, with only a few lawmakers in attendance and media not permitted. It initially indicated an end to the impasse, but Sirisena's speech is a sign of more acrimony, possibly leading to early parliamentary elections. A new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in soon.
Wickremesinghe spoke separately at his official residence and refrained from responding to Sirisena. "Now I will assume duties of the office of prime minister," Wickremesinghe told his cheering supporters.
"Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, the progress of this country and the development programs that we undertook were stalled," he said. "Not only that, the country went backward. Today we commit firstly to bring back normalcy and resuming the development program."
In his televised speech, Sirisena said his reasons for firing Wickremesinghe included a lack of interest in helping investigate an alleged insider trade during a bond issue, in which a former Central Bank governor who is a close friend of Wickremesinghe is implicated.
He also said Wickremesinghe's ministers alienated Buddhist monks by having them arrested for keeping unlicensed captive elephants at temples. Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation with an influential clergy.
Sirisena also criticized Wickremesinghe for investigations into alleged abuses during the long civil war that ended in 2009. The president said Wickremesinghe had only government soldiers arrested but had not looked into prosecuting former Tamil Tiger rebels he said were hiding in foreign countries.
"My view is that we should prosecute everyone, or else we should negotiate with the international community and free our soldiers (from accusations)," he said.
Both sides were accused of grave wartime abuses. According to a U.N. report, at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed just in the final months of the fighting.
Wickremesinghe had insisted his abrupt firing on Oct. 26 was unlawful. Sirisena's choice for prime minister, former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost two no-confidence votes in Parliament but continued to hold the office with Sirisena's support.
When his opponents went to court, the Court of Appeal suspended Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their offices. Rajapaksa asked the Supreme Court to lift the suspension, but it refused and extended the suspension until mid-January, forcing Rajapaksa to resign on Saturday.
The suspension had left Sri Lanka without a government and in danger of being unable to spend government money from Jan. 1. It is also committed to repay $1 billion in foreign debts in January.
"We can be proud of the way our Parliament and Supreme Court did their duties according to the law," Wickremesinghe said Sunday, adding that the Supreme Court had strengthened the freedom of the citizens by interpreting the law accurately.
"We all need a normal life, we need our progress and it is to this that we are committed," he said.
Sirisena was health minister in Rajapaksa's Cabinet when he defected to join Wickremesinghe and challenge Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. After winning the election, he formed a government with Wickremesinghe as prime minister, but the two leaders started to have differences over economic policy and the investigations of alleged wartime abuses.
Indonesia, Dec 16 (AP/UNB) — A volcano in central Indonesia has erupted, ejecting columns of thick ash as high as 7,500 meters (24,606 feet) into the sky.
Mount Soputan, located on the northern part of Sulawesi island, erupted twice Sunday morning, said the national disaster agency's spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
He said in anticipation of hot ash and lava sliding down the volcano's slopes, local residents have been urged to avoid activities near the mountain.
Residents were also warned against the possible flowing of lava into rivers around the volcano, and urged to wear masks in case of ash rain.
Authorities kept the volcano's alert level at the second-highest level.
Soputan, which stands 1,784 meters (5,853 feet) tall, is one of Indonesia's more than 120 active volcanoes.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 260 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire."
Sri Lanka, Dec 16 (AP/UNB) — Sri Lanka's president has reappointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, nearly two months after firing him and setting off weeks of political stalemate.
Wickremesinghe's United National Party says on its official Twitter account that Wickremesinghe took oath before President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday.
The move promises to ease 50 days of political crisis, but could also be the beginning of a difficult cohabitation between the two leaders now in rival camps. A new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in soon.
Sirisena abruptly sacked Wickremesinghe Oct. 26 and appointed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Wickremesinghe insisted his removal was unlawful and Rajapaksa failed to get Parliament's approval.
The Supreme Court on Friday extended a lower court suspension of Rajapaksa, which forced him to resign on Saturday.