Islamabad, Oct 10 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan has appointed a new leader for its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence service, which plays a key role in coordinating its foreign policy, including with regard to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The military said Wednesday that Lt. Gen. Asim Munir was chosen to replace Lt. Gen, Naveed Mukhtar, who retired earlier this month. Munir previously headed Military Intelligence and was a field commander. He was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, a top medal, earlier this year.
The ISI has long maintained close ties to the Afghan Taliban and other Islamic militant groups. The United States and Afghanistan have repeatedly called on Pakistan to crack down on such militants. Pakistan says it has used its contacts to assist in peace efforts and that it has limited influence over the Afghan Taliban.
Lucknow, Oct 10 (AP/UNB) — Police say an express train has partially derailed in northern India, killing five passengers and injuring dozens more.
Police director general OP Singh said rescuers have responded to the scene where the train's engine and five cars derailed about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. It occurred at a railway station in Rae Bareli, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.
At least 35 passengers were injured and taken to hospitals.
Singh said buses were used to take the passengers to a safe place.
The derailment occurred when the rain was entering the station zone, but the cause wasn't clear.
Petobo, Oct 9 (AP/UNB) — When the violent shaking from a massive magnitude 7.5 earthquake finally stopped, Selvi Susanti stood up and realized something strange was happening. First, she saw the ground suddenly begin to sink. Then the pavement split beneath her feet like a broken dinner plate and started to rise. Terrified, she clung to a small sliver of asphalt and surfed a river of fast-moving mud as it swallowed entire neighborhoods, carrying her higher than coconut trees for a quarter of a mile.
"What I saw — oh my God! Houses were tumbling. They started to roll like waves. It's like a tsunami, but the difference was they were waves of soil," said Susanti, 38, weeping at the memory of seeing so many people simply disappear into the earth as they screamed for help. "It felt like I was in a boat, moving around. But the difference is I was not in water, but in the mud."
Many, like Susanti in the devastated village of Petobo, had no idea they were in an area already identified by the government as a high-risk zone for the devastating geological phenomenon that causes soft ground to liquefy during earthquakes.
But Indonesian scientist Gegar Prasetya wasn't surprised by any of the events that occurred at dusk on Sept. 28, killing nearly 2,000 people and leaving possibly thousands more missing. He had warned people for years that the area around Sulawesi island's Palu Bay had been struck before and was due for another potential combination of factors to create a perfect storm capable of unleashing earthquakes, landslides, tsunami waves and soil liquefaction.
"I knew right away," said Prasetya, co-founder of the Tsunami Research Center Indonesia, who had met with government officials and residents in the area to try to raise awareness about the threat. "I posted in our group, and I said, 'It's happened.'"
Disaster-prone Indonesia, part of the Pacific Basin's "Ring of Fire," is an archipelago of about 17,000 islands sitting atop numerous fault lines that have produced some of the largest and most deadly earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in recorded history.
Other scientists around the world wondered how this type of earthquake — on a strike-slip fault, which typically does not produce dangerous tsunamis — could generate waves that surged as high as 6 meters (20 feet).
Again, Prasetya knew.
He had published a paper nearly two decades ago highlighting six other tsunamis recorded in the Makassar Strait in the past century, predicting that a repeat event could be expected roughly every 25 years. The last one occurred in a region north of the city in 1996. Before that, Palu Bay was hit in 1968 by a very similar magnitude 7.4 quake that generated waves 10 meters (33 feet) high.
"This one complete village went to the sea," he said of the 1968 event. "You can still see the trees from the top of the water."
Some experts theorize that the Sept. 28 quake, by itself, didn't generate a big wave despite being shallow and near the coast. They're convinced it was instead the area's soft soil that served as the real catalyst for disaster. The temblor's long, violent shaking likely triggered one or more underwater landslides due to unstable sediment deposited on the seafloor by rivers. This disruptive movement may have created the large wall of water that raced across the open ocean until being squeezed into the long, narrow bay that surrounds Palu, forcing the wave to grow higher.
"Imagine what happens if you drop a brick in a flat pond — ripples spread in all directions," said Robert Hall, a geologist at Royal Holloway University of London, who has studied the area. "Now drop the same size object in a bathtub. The waves can reflect off the sides, can amplify, and may get larger in the direction of the length of the bath."
But it wasn't just weak sediment in the ocean that gave way. Wet, sandy soil also separated and came alive through liquefaction in some areas due to the earthquake's radical vibrations. The ground simply lost its strength and turned to mush beneath people's feet, creating mud that acted like quicksand. People, houses, cars and streets were swallowed and covered by a thick carpet of what — just seconds earlier — had been solid earth. Fast-moving landslides also were launched above ground, possibly causing even more localized tsunami waves.
"We wouldn't necessarily expect to get all the worst possible factors occurring together," said Willem De Lange, a scientist from the University of Waikato in New Zealand who co-authored research on the area with Prasetya in 2001. "Unfortunately this does happen."
Many questions remain about exactly what happened in this complex disaster. Prasetya will begin field work with the Indonesian navy this week to try to better understand what occurred under water, and a team of international experts are expected to arrive soon to survey the area.
Palu's population has exploded in many high-risk areas since the 1968 event, which killed 200 people and also turned soil to mud in places, leaving many newcomers vulnerable with no local history.
However, the central government did produce a map in 2012 identifying large swaths of Palu, a city of 380,000 people, where liquefaction could occur. The area of Petobo, for instance, was classified as having high-risk potential. The report also recommended that housing and industrial areas should best be built in areas with low liquefaction risk. It suggested mitigation efforts, including building structures with deep foundations anchored into firmer layers of earth.
Good urban planning is ultimately the key to saving lives, said Sri Hidayati, head of earthquake mitigation at the Energy Ministry's Geology Agency, which produced the report that was shared with the provincial and district governments in Sulawesi. She said it's her agency's responsibility to provide the mapping, but it's up to local authorities to "use it or not." Calls Monday to Palu's vice mayor and the mayor's aid went unanswered.
"If everything in the future is planned based on this, I think maybe we will only experience a small number of casualties in case such a disaster occurs again," Hidayati said. "Or probably no casualties at all."
At a news conference in Jakarta on Monday, the head of the country's disaster agency also confirmed that soft soil areas in Palu are not fit for housing.
"It is impossible to rebuild in areas with high liquefaction risk such as Petobo and Balaroa," said Willem Rampangilei, adding that people still living there will be relocated.
Indonesia has been criticized for lifting the tsunami warning it issued for Sulawesi's coast too soon. The earthquake knocked out power and telecommunication towers, meaning sirens didn't wail and alerts didn't light up mobile phones. Online video showed an unsettling scene as cars and motorbikes drove at normal speeds on a coastal road and oblivious people milled about on the beach while the large, fast-moving wave could be seen racing closer before exploding onshore.
"It's almost impossible for a tsunami warning system to predict what we saw the other day," said Adam Switzer, an expert at the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "The earthquake is the warning. If you're anywhere in southeast Asia and you're on the coast and you feel an earthquake, move inland and move to higher ground and stay there."
But it's also not a matter of only warning people just before something happens. Prasetya said the history and geology of Palu Bay must be considered in plans to rebuild. He said soil investigations should be carried out to determine if deep piles are needed to stabilize buildings. Local knowledge should also be considered as a cheap way help to save lives, such as constructing houses out of wood with thatched roofs, instead of concrete and tile.
In Petobo, tsunami warnings would not have helped because there was no time to respond to the waves of mud. All that remains of the village, located about 30 minutes from the center of Palu, is a muddy wasteland where only the very tips of roofs remain above ground in places. Satellite images show a heavily populated area stretching more than 100 hectares (250 acres) being devoured by what looks like a giant layer of chocolate milk. In mobile phone videos, buildings are seen sliding like pucks across a slab of ice. Some people spent hours trying to find their homes after the disaster, locating them about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from where they once stood.
"It felt like we were spinning in a blender," recalled Susanti, who survived by leaping to solid ground and running after the mud flow finally slowed down. "I saw houses change position. Houses which were located at the east moved to the west and vice versa. I saw the twisted mud was shaped like dough."
Recovering bodies from Petobo and other hard-hit areas, such as Balaroa, has been difficult because heavy equipment will sink in the soft soil and is unusable there. The government is considering turning some of these sites into mass graves, according to Wiranto, Indonesia's security minister, who uses one name.
"It is already a ghost village. I will not go back there even if they pay me 1 billion rupiah ($65,800)," said Erli Yati, 32, who also survived what's been dubbed a "land tsunami" by some in Petobo.
She had no idea about the previous disasters there or that the ground could come alive as it did.
"I will not step back to that place again," she added. "That was the worse experience I have ever had."
Prasetya commended the idea of closing off liquefaction areas and said mitigation — whether it's creating and enforcing proper building codes in at-risk zones or relocating people to safer places — should be implemented before the next disaster.
"How many souls need to be sacrificed until the government knows mitigation is important?" he asked, adding he's been sounding alarms since the massive 2004 earthquake-spawned tsunami off Sumatra island killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations, more than half of them in Indonesia. "Everything is back to business as usual."
Beijing, Oct 08 (AP/UNB) — Chinese authorities scrambled to contain a public relations mess over the disappearance of the former Interpol president during his trip home to China, saying Monday that he was being lawfully investigated for bribery and other crimes.
But the government's announcement did little to address concerns raised about the risks of appointing Chinese officials to leadership posts in international organizations. On Monday, the acting Interpol president told The Associated Press the agency had not been informed in advance of the Chinese probe into Meng Hongwei, who is also China's vice minister of public security.
On Sunday, Meng's wife made a bold public appeal from France to the international community to help locate her husband. The appeal — especially unusual for senior Chinese officials — cast an unwelcome light on extralegal detentions that have increasingly ensnared dissidents and allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials alike under President Xi Jinping's authoritarian administration.
In a sign of the urgent and possibly unplanned nature of the investigation, the Ministry of Public Security said in an announcement that top ministry officials met in the early hours of Monday to discuss Meng's case. The announcement said Meng was being investigated for accepting bribes and other crimes that were a result of his "willfulness."
"We should deeply recognize the serious damage that Meng Hongwei's bribe-taking and suspected violations of the law have caused the party and the cause of public security and deeply learn from this lesson," said the announcement about the meeting, chaired by Minister Zhao Lezhi.
Meng is the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to a sweeping crackdown by the ruling Communist Party on graft and perceived disloyalty. Most officials investigated by anti-graft authorities are quietly spirited away for questioning, cut off from contact from their families and not allowed access to lawyers, sometimes for months.
But that wasn't how it played out with Meng, 64, whose unexplained disappearance while on a trip home to China late last month prompted the French police to launch an investigation. The French government and Interpol also made their concerns known publicly in recent days.
By late Sunday night, China issued a terse announcement that Meng was in the custody of party investigators, and shortly after, Interpol said Meng had resigned as the international police agency's president. Meng could not be reached for comment.
The revelation that Chinese authorities would be bold enough to forcibly make even a senior public security official with international stature disappear has cast a shadow over the image Beijing has sought to cultivate as a modern country with the rule of law.
Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Meng's case shows how Chinese officials, no matter where they are, have to obey the Communist Party first and foremost. "This puts China's internal political struggle over and above the international norms on the rule of law," Lam said.
Rights groups had criticized Meng's appointment as head of Interpol in 2016. They pointed to the lack of transparency in China's legal system and the potential that the position would be misused to attack Beijing's political opponents — by using the police group's red notices to pursue political or economic fugitives, for instance.
"By putting him in the position of Interpol chief, China hoped to show its determination to govern by law," said Zhang Lifan, an independent Chinese political analyst. "But now the spokesman is in trouble and it has definitely dealt a blow to China's image."
Zhang said the haphazard way the case unfolded suggested that officials were acting as if in some state of emergency. "China proceeded to do this in an unconventional manner without caring about its image. It is rather an insult to Interpol," he said.
The acting president of Interpol, Kim Jong Yang, said it had not been told about the investigation of its chief. "I find it regrettable that the top leader of the organization had to go out this way and that we weren't specifically notified of what was happening in advance," Kim said in a phone interview.
"We still don't have sufficient information about what's happening (with Meng) or whether it has anything to do with Chinese domestic politics," he added.
Monday's statement on the ministry of public security's website provided no details about the bribes Meng allegedly took or other crimes he is accused of, but suggested that he was also in trouble for political lapses.
Officials at the meeting were told that they "must always maintain the political quality of being absolutely loyal to the party," the statement said.
Questions about Meng's case dominated a regular briefing by China's foreign ministry on Monday. The spokesman, Lu Kang, rejected the suggestion that China's handling of the Meng probe would hurt the country's image abroad, saying that it demonstrated Beijing's commitment to tackling graft.
"This has shown the Chinese government's firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crime," Lu said. "It has also made very clear that this case fully demonstrates that the party is firm in fighting corruption."
However, Lu did not directly answer questions about whether Meng would be formally arrested or allowed to hire a lawyer, or receive a visit from his wife.
Grace Meng, his wife, made an impassioned plea Sunday for help in bringing her husband to safety. She said she thought he sent an image of a knife before he disappeared in China as a way to warn her he was in danger.
She pledged to pursue "truth, justice and responsibility toward history" for her husband and young children's sake, and "for all the wives and children, so that their husbands and fathers will no longer disappear."
The emotional appeal was an extremely unusual move for the spouse of a senior Chinese official to take, given the risk that public lobbying might backfire and lead to a heavier punishment. Many don't have a chance to speak up even if they want to: spouses of officials under investigation, if they're in China, would likely be placed under 24-hour surveillance, Lam said.
"The terrible allegations made by Mrs. Meng provide the world with a rare window of opportunity to look at the way in which judicial processes are being handled in China," Lam said.
"It's not a pretty picture."
Palu, Oct 8 (AP/UNB) — The death toll from the devastating earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia's Sulawesi island neared 2,000 on Monday, but thousands more are believed unaccounted for and officials said search teams plan to stop looking for victims later this week.
The official toll hit 1,948, mostly in the hard-hit city of Palu, said Jamaluddin, an official from the disaster task force who uses one name. He corrected the number during a news conference in Jakarta after initially saying it was 1,944. He said a navy ship had docked in the area and opened a field hospital.
Willem Rampangilei, head of the National Board for Disaster Management, said there could be as many as 5,000 victims still buried in deep mud in Balaroa and Petobo, two of Palu's hardest-hit neighborhoods. But he added that number must be verified by his teams because it is an unofficial figure which came from village heads in the area. The Sept. 28 quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy there. It is too soft to use heavy equipment for recovery, and decomposition of bodies is already advanced.
"It is impossible to rebuild in areas with high liquefaction risk such as Petobo and Balaroa," he said, adding villages there will be relocated.
Talks were underway with religious authorities and surviving family members to decide whether some areas could be turned into mass graves for victims entombed there with monuments built to remember them.
Officials reiterated that the search is expected to end on Thursday. However, the deadline could be extended if needed.
Rampangilei said life is starting to return to normal in some areas affected by the disaster. Immediate food and water needs have been met, and the local government has started to function again. Many schools have been completely destroyed, but he said classes will resume where possible. However, many students are still too scared to return.