Berlin, July 24 (AP/UNB) — Europeans cooled off in public fountains Wednesday as a new heat wave spread across parts of the continent and is already breaking records.
Belgium registered its highest-ever temperature while the Netherlands saw its hottest day in 75 years.
And the mercury is expected to rise even further.
Paris and other parts of France could see temperatures exceeding 40 C (104 F) on Thursday along with Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The heat is putting pressure on authorities to help protect the elderly and the sick. Air conditioning is not common at homes, offices, schools or hospitals in European cities.
The weather is also aggravating droughts since it hasn't rained much in many parts of Europe this summer. The combination of heat, wind and possible lightning from thunderstorms also increases the risk of wildfires.
WHY IS IT SO HOT?
The second likely-to-be-record-breaking heat wave in two months in Europe includes some of the same ingredients of the first — hot dry air coming from northern Africa. That hot air is trapped between cold stormy systems in the Atlantic and eastern Europe and forms "a little heat dome," said Ryan Maue, a private meteorologist in the U.S.
This heat wave is a relatively short event where the heat comes with a southerly wind — and dust — from Africa's Sahara Desert, in contrast to the big European heat waves of 2003 and 2010 which lasted much longer and were sustained by a stationary high pressure system with little wind, experts say.
At the end of June, several countries reported record temperatures, and France hit its all-time heat record: 46 C (114.8 F) in the small southern town of Verargues.
IS CLIMATE CHANGE CAUSING THIS?
Heat waves are happening more frequently in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, experts say. As the world warms, scientists say there will be more and hotter heat waves, but attributing single events to climate change involves precise computer modeling and calculations.
A team of European climate scientists did a quick, non-peer reviewed analysis of Europe's June heat wave and found man-made warming made it at least five times more likely.
"Either of the two European heat waves this summer would have been remarkable in isolation. But now we are seeing multiple episodes of record heat in a given summer. By mid-century, we will simply call these episodes 'summer' — if we continue on this trajectory," said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who wasn't part of the European group.
The heat waves aren't just because the world is 1 degree Celsius warmer than before the industrial era, but also because climate change and the melting of Arctic sea ice has slowed down the jet stream, which is the river of air that moves weather along, Mann said. The slow jet stream is "a big part of the story when it comes to these very persistent heat extremes we have seen in recent summers," Mann said in an email.
HOW HOT COULD IT GET THIS WEEK AND WHERE?
Temperatures in France especially are likely to be 15 C (27 F) higher than normal, with Paris likely to break its all-time hottest record mark of 40.4 degrees (104.7 Fahrenheit). Surrounding areas around Paris may hit 41 or 42 C (106 to 108 Fahrenheit), weather experts said.
The Dutch meteorological institute tweeted that Wednesday's heat wave broke a record that stood for nearly 75 years of the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Netherlands. The Dutch weather service Weerplaza said that the southern city of Eindhoven reported a temperature of 39.3 (102.7 F) this afternoon.
Belgium measured its highest temperature since records were first kept in 1833.
In sun-baked Kleine Brogel in northeastern Belgium, temperatures rose to 39.9 C (102.3 F), and the weather forecaster of the Royal Meteorological Institute said that it was "the highest ever Belgian temperature."
Also, temperatures won't cool down much at night, and maybe stay around 24 C or higher (75 F).
The German Weather Service has put the entire country on heat alert and said the 2015 national heat record of 40.3 C, which is currently held by the Bavarian community of Kitzingen, could be broken this time.
WHAT ARE PEOPLE AND AUTHORITIES DOING TO STAY COOL?
France in particular is haunted by the 2003 heat wave that killed an estimated 15,000 people there, most of them isolated elderly people whose families in many cases were on vacation. The country has since taken measures to try to ensure such a catastrophe isn't repeated.
Those measures include a color-coded heat alert system to warn people when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels in their area. The alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month's heat wave, when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature.
There are also public service announcements on television, radio and in public transportation systems about risks of high temperatures, telling people to drink water and watch out for isolated elderly people.
Millions of euros in extra funding for emergency services, including more staff members in hospitals and nursing homes overwhelmed in 2003. A government report at the time blamed the death toll on lack of coordination among government agencies, nursing homes that lacked air conditioning and overnight staff, lack of a public alert system, and other problems.
Still, few homes in France or Germany have air conditioning, and many public buildings also lack air conditioning, including hospitals and schools.
In the Netherlands, local authorities have taken an unusual precaution — with trucks scattering salt on the roads like they usually do in the winter.
The salt spreaders are usually used to prevent ice forming on Dutch roads in the cold, but Arnhem municipality started using them to cool off asphalt that is baking in the heat wave.
The city says in a statement that the salt "attracts moisture from the air and cools the asphalt." It also prevents the asphalt from becoming sticky.
Across London, authorities started handing out water and sunscreen to homeless people and opened day centers for them to rest and shower. In the Lewisham district of the British capital, garbage collectors will start working as early as 5 a.m. in the morning to beat the heat.
London police warned people not to swim in the city's River Thames after a young man died there Tuesday night.
"Whilst at times, the Thames may look appealing, especially in this hot weather, it remains very dangerous all year round," police said in a statement. "On initial entry the water can seem warm on the surface, but further in it can be freezing cold and there are often very strong undercurrents."
WHEN IS IT OVER?
The heat wave will end in a few days. On the weekend, temperatures are expected to fall. However, quite often end of a heat wave brings storms, including lightning and heavy flooding.
Brussels, July 24 (AP/UNB) — Three decades ago, journalist Boris Johnson wrote stories for London’s Daily Telegraph playing up stereotypes about bumbling bureaucrats in the European Union wasting money and tying up U.K. businesses in red tape — articles the European officials deemed to be so false that they coined the word “Euromyth” to describe them.
Now he is becoming Britain’s prime minister, set to lead the country out of the EU, and Johnson showed last week that little has changed.
Brandishing a kipper at a campaign rally, Johnson alleged the EU had forced fishermen to plastic-wrap the British smoked fish delicacy in a special pillow of ice, pushing up costs and damaging the environment in another example of Brussels’ “regulatory overkill.”
The EU quickly said the allegation was false: The wrapping was a U.K. national regulation outside of the bloc’s scope.
EU Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis fired back at “Boris” in a tweet noting that “a fish rots from the head down. As potential future PM you need to keep a cool head.”
Johnson’s allegation was similar to what he and other like-minded British journalists in Brussels wrote in the early 1990s. Back then, European officials sought to debunk their stories that said things like all EU manure had to smell the same, or that it would outlaw excessively curved bananas. Johnson even returned to the banana ban theme during the Brexit referendum campaign three years ago.
The EU parliament’s chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, last month called Johnson “a man who continues to dissemble, exaggerate, and dis-inform the public about Brexit.”
“Reality does not square with Johnson’s ensorcelling combination of false promises, pseudo-patriotism, and foreigner bashing,” he added.
On Tuesday, EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans noted that Johnson had been ambivalent about Britain leaving the EU before he threw his weight behind the Brexit campaign.
“I would just suggest that you look at what he has been writing over the years. He took a long time deciding whether he was for or against the EU,” Timmermans said, adding: “The world’s politics is rife with ‘colorful’ people these days, so if you can’t deal with them, there’s not much you could do.”
Despite the disparaging comments on both sides, both Johnson and the EU will now have to work together on Brexit. He has committed to taking Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 “do or die.” In political terms, that most likely means with or without a deal to soften the economic impact of the divorce
Johnson and his predecessor, Theresa May, are both Conservatives, but he vehemently opposes the EU divorce deal that she struck with the EU. Under the plan, Britain must pay a departure fee of 39 billion pounds ($48 billion), and adhere to its guarantees to avoid a hard customs border on the frontier between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.
The EU is holding out the possibility of giving Britain another extension to the Brexit deadline if Johnson wants. But Johnson already has been preparing for withdrawing without a deal, something that financial experts say would be chaotic, costly and damaging to the British economy. Most economists think it would lead to a severe recession as firms face tariffs and other barriers on their exports. Brexit worries have weighed heavily on the British pound, which has fallen this month to near two-year lows.
Johnson has not made it easy for the EU to warmly embrace him.
Along with Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party, Johnson became a political foe of the EU during the Brexit referendum in spring 2016. The populist “Leave” campaign claimed, erroneously, that leaving the bloc would somehow get Britain’s National Health Service an additional 350 million pounds ($429 million) a week. There also were posters warning of a flood of immigrants to Britain from Turkey.
When the Leave side won by a margin of 52% to 48%, Johnson did not gain any friends in Brussels.
The same year, Johnson compared the EU’s aims to those of Adolf Hitler, arguing the bloc was trying to create a superstate that mirrored the Nazi leader’s attempts to dominate the European continent. At the time, EU Council President Donald Tusk called the comment “absurd.”
When negotiations on the withdrawal from the EU began in 2017, Johnson said the bloc could “go whistle” if it wanted a big exit payout from Britain for outstanding debts.
He also claimed his Brexit policy would be “having our cake and eating it.”
Tusk quickly retorted: “I propose a simple experiment. Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate.”
Thailand, July 24 (AP/UNB) — Four people were killed in an attack on a military outpost in southern Thailand, where Muslim rebels are active, Thai police said.
An unknown number of assailants carried out the attack Tuesday night using firearms and explosives, triggering a gunfight that left four dead and three injured, said Pol. Col. Yanapong Ubolbarn, chief of the Muang Pattani police station.
Two people who were part of a village defense unit were killed immediately, while a soldier and a volunteer officer died in a hospital. The attack also left three other volunteer officers wounded.
A Muslim separatist insurgency has left about 7,000 people dead since 2004 in Thailand's three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala.
Police said the attackers Tuesday were riding on motorcycles as they threw explosives at the outpost. They waited for the explosions to subside before opening fire on the outpost and security officers. A firefight took place for several minutes before the attackers retreated.
The unidentified assailants also scattered nails on the road to intercept incoming vehicles that came to help the attacked security officials, police said.
Caracas, July 23 (AP/UNB) — Venezuela's opposition on Tuesday sought to harness anger over a massive blackout that deepened hardship nationwide, but turnout at a Caracas demonstration was relatively modest as many Venezuelans despair of an imminent solution to their plight.
Lights came back on in parts of the capital and other areas of Venezuela overnight following a nearly nine-hour outage that the government blamed on an "electromagnetic attack" against the power grid, without providing any evidence. Government opponents say years of mismanagement and corruption were to blame.
Electricity supply remained unstable in many regions. The blackout knocked out communications and the Caracas metro on Monday, forcing commuters to walk home or hustle for a spot on packed buses. The metro remained out of operation Tuesday.
The scenes in the capital were familiar, even though Caracas has been mostly spared the debilitating power cuts that persisted in other parts of the country after nationwide outages in March. The latest blackout didn't make much difference to people with scarce power in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city.
Maritza Arámbula, a Maracaibo resident, said she was tired of a government that makes "excuses" and an opposition continually seeking support from Venezuela's exhausted citizens.
"We need solutions, not promises," Arámbula said. "Not having light makes me sick."
In Caracas, the opposition-led congress held a session in a main square to try to keep pressure on the government of President Nicolás Maduro, who has defied U.S.-led efforts to oust him. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared in front of bunting in the colors of the Venezuelan flag — red, blue and yellow — and said, as he often has in the past, that the government he calls a "dictatorship" is crumbling.
"We have to win," he said.
At the gathering, the congress approved Venezuela's return to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a U.S.-led defense pact that could provide political cover for greater international involvement in the nation's crisis. However, Maduro's government was not expected to heed the opposition move.
In addition to congress deputies, hundreds of other people attended the event, a smaller crowd than the throngs that poured into the streets in January when Guaidó declared he was interim president and that Maduro's 2018 re-election was a sham. Some activists said the turnout was low because public transport wasn't available, though opposition demonstrations in Caracas have diminished in size over several months.
In January, expectations of change were high among many Venezuelans. But Maduro dug in, maintaining the support of Russia, Cuba and Venezuelan military leaders who ignored an opposition attempt to stoke a military rebellion on April 30. Now negotiations mediated by Norway are underway, worrying opposition activists who fear the government is playing for time.
Guaidó tweeted about the nationwide blackout, blaming it on the incompetence of a government that claims to espouse the socialist principles of Maduro's late predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
"For Venezuelans, it's not an option to get used to this tragedy," he said.
The Venezuelan government blamed sabotage, echoing allegations that the United States was behind nearly a week of blackouts in March that were allegedly aimed at forcing out Maduro. U.S. officials have scoffed at the suggestion.
Venezuelan officials suspended school and work Tuesday for most Venezuelans because of the power failure, though Energy Minister Freddy Brito said government workers were restoring power across the country.
Netblocks, a group monitoring internet activity, said network data showed most of Venezuela had been knocked offline with national connectivity at just 6% after the outages on Monday.
Venezuela was once a wealthy oil nation, but an estimated 4 million residents have emigrated, tired of shortages of electricity and water, as well as food and medicine. U.S. sanctions have added to an economic crisis that has escalated for years, according to experts.
On Tuesday, the Lima Group, which includes Canada and some Latin American countries, held a meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to rally international support for Guaidó and condemnation of human rights violations under the Venezuelan government. Maduro backers say the Venezuelan opposition has fomented violence.
"The crisis is getting worse and requires an urgent solution through a transition with credible, transparent, free and fair elections, with the help of the international community," said Néstor Popolizio, the Peruvian foreign minister.
While Venezuela's future is unclear for many, an opposition activist wearing a Venezuelan flag around her shoulders like a cape said one thing is certain: The blackout in Caracas this week won't be the last.
"What we went through last night will happen again," said Adriana Caluogno, a computer programmer.
Paris, July 23 (AP/UNB) — France says it's working with its European partners on an observation mission to ensure maritime security in the Persian Gulf, where tensions have climbed with Iran's seizure last week of a U.K.-flagged oil tanker.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made no mention of a Europe-led "maritime protection mission" announced a day earlier by his British counterpart, Jeremy Hunt, offering instead what seems to be a softer version.
France is working "at this moment on a European initiative" with Britain and Germany, he told lawmakers, without elaborating. "This vision is the opposite of the American initiative, which is ... maximum pressure" against Iran.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll said at briefing that the initiative involves "appropriate means of surveillance" aimed at "increased understanding of the situation at sea" to facilitate traffic in a waterway that is critical to the global economy.
Le Drian stressed the need to de-escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf region. Iran's seizure Friday of British oil tanker Steno Impero and its 23-member crew in the Strait of Hormuz aggravated tensions that were already mounting with Iran's breaching of a 2015 Iran nuclear accord among world powers.
European nations that signed the Iran nuclear accord, which the United States under President Donald Trump withdrew from last year, reinstating sanctions on Iran.
Nations still party to the shaky Iran nuclear deal plan to meet in Vienna on Sunday to see to what extent the agreement can be saved. The European Union said the meeting of China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, chaired by the EU, "will examine issues linked to the implementation of the (nuclear deal) in all its aspects."
Iran began openly exceeding the uranium enrichment levels set in the accord to try to pressure Europe into offsetting the economic pain of U.S. sanctions.
Le Drian stressed the need for diplomacy to de-escalate volatile tensions, which he has said previously could lead to "an accident."