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Data Show How Powerful Quake Shifted Parts of New Zealand

New data shows that parts of New Zealand’s South Island moved several meters closer to the North Island during last November’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

The data, including satellite radar imagery, shows that parts of New Zealand’s South Island have shifted more than 5 meters closer to the North Island, and that some areas were raised by up to 8 meters.

 

Other information has come from observations on the ground and the analysis of coastal regions by GNS science, a New Zealand government research agency.

The tremor, near the tourist town of Kaikoura, ruptured a swath of land almost 200 kilometers long.

Research coming out

GNS has published the first of 10 papers on the powerful quake in mid-November 2016 in the international journal Science. Two people were killed when the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck and Kaikoura was cut off by landslides.

 

Ian Hamling is the lead author of the research paper. He says the shifting of the earth in New Zealand occurred when powerful seismic forces pulled the ground in different directions.

“It is kind of like a shearing, so I guess the classic people always think of is a San Andreas-style fault, where you get the two sides of the fault zone move in opposite directions,” Hamling said. “And so that is what we see, is that parts of inland Kaikoura up to Cape Campbell have gone to the northeast and then in some areas to the south of that have gone in the opposite direction.”

The earthquake struck last November northeast of the city of Christchurch. It was felt in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, on the North Island, 200 kilometers away.

Shaky Isles

 

Christchurch is still recovering from a devastating 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed the city center.

 

New Zealand is known as the Shaky Isles. The South Pacific nation lies on the unpredictable Ring of Fire that circles almost the entire Pacific rim.

 

Each year more than 15,000 earthquakes are recorded in New Zealand, but only about 150 are large enough to be felt.

 

The research paper, led by GNS, included the work of 29 co-authors from 11 national and international institutes such as the NASA laboratory in California and the University of Leeds in Britain.

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Philippine Soldiers Rescue Hostage; Abu Sayyaf Suspected

Philippine soldiers Saturday rescued one of two Filipino cargo ship crewmen taken captive two days ago by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, a security official said.

The troops recovered Aurelio Agacac, the ship captain, in the remote village of Basakan in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, said Colonel Juvymax Uy, commander of the military’s 104th Brigade and Joint Task Force Basilan.

The kidnappers took Agacac and his companion Laurencio Tiro captive from a cargo ship off Basilan on Thursday, only hours after soldiers rescued two Malaysians held for about eight months on a southern island.

Uy said the abductors were forced to abandon Agacac to delay the pursuing troops and evade a firefight.

Uy said the soldiers also captured a wounded suspect during the pursuit who died while being transported to the hospital in Basilan.

Uy did not confirm that the kidnappers were Abu Sayyaf members.

Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent Islamist group known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, is still holding a number of Filipino and foreign nationals captive, including some Indonesians and Malaysians.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to impose martial law in the south, home to the majority of Filipino Muslims, to address the security problem there.

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US Judge Grants Asylum to Singapore Blogger

A teenage blogger from Singapore whose online posts blasting his government landed in him jail was granted asylum to remain in the United States, an immigration judge in Chicago ruled Friday.

 

Amos Yee has been detained by federal immigration authorities since December when he was taken into custody at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Attorneys said the 18-year-old could be released from a Wisconsin detention center as early as Monday. 

 

Judge Samuel Cole issued a 13-page decision more than two weeks after Yee’s closed-door hearing on the asylum application.

 

“Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future persecution in Singapore,” Cole wrote.

Jailed twice in Singapore

 

Yee left Singapore with the intention of seeking asylum in the U.S. after being jailed for several weeks in 2015 and 2016. He was accused of hurting the religious feelings of Muslims and Christians in the multiethnic city-state; Yee is an atheist. 

However, many of his blog and social media posts criticized Singapore’s leaders. He created controversy in 2015 as the city-state was mourning the death of its first prime minister and he posted an expletive-laden video about Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew just after his death.

 

Such open criticism of political leaders is discouraged in Singapore. The case, which raised questions about free speech and censorship, has been closely watched abroad.

 

Cole said testimony during Yee’s hearing showed that while the Singapore government’s stated reason for punishing him involved religion, “its real purpose was to stifle Yee’s political speech.” He said Yee’s prison sentence was “unusually long and harsh” especially for his age. 

 

Officials at Singapore’s embassy in Washington, D.C., have not addressed the case and messages left for the government on Saturday morning in Singapore weren’t immediately returned.

‘Infinite amount of ideas’

 

Yee’s attorney Sandra Grossman said her client was elated with the news.

 

“He’s very excited to begin new life in the United States,” Grossman said. 

 

Yee told the AP in a phone interview from jail this month that he feared returning to Singapore. But he said he’d continue to speak out and had planned a line of T-shirts and started writing a book about his experiences.

 

“I have an infinite amount of ideas of what to do,” he told the AP.

Homeland opposed asylum

Department of Homeland Security attorneys had opposed the asylum bid, saying Yee’s case didn’t qualify as persecution based on political beliefs. It was unclear whether they’d appeal the decision or if Yee would have to remain imprisoned if they did. Attorneys have 30 days to appeal.

 

Officials with DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t immediately return messages Friday. A spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees U.S. immigration courts, declined comment. 

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Bangladesh Wants to Move Rohingya Refugees to Isolated Island

Bangladesh has proposed moving an influx of refugees from Myanmar to an isolated island that only emerged from the sea 11 years ago, partially floods at high tide and disappears completely for three months during the annual monsoon season.

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Growing Disconnect with China Seen Ahead of Hong Kong Election

On March 26 in Hong Kong, an electoral committee, stacked with Beijing loyalists, will select the city’s chief executive for the next five years. The race is widely seen as a competition between China’s preferred candidate, Carrie Lam, and the more popular John Tsang. And while most believe Lam will win, questions linger about how divided the electoral committee vote will be and what impact the results might have on calls for political reform. Joyce Huang has this report for VOA from Hong Kong.

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On World Tuberculosis Day, Doctors Warn of New Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Friday marks World Tuberculosis Day, aimed at raising awareness of a disease that kills an estimated 1.8 million people every year. Six countries account for nearly two-thirds of the cases: India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa. As Henry Ridgwell reports, resistant forms of TB bacteria are undermining efforts to roll out new treatments.

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Report: Pakistan Terror Groups Get Rich From Crime, Money Laundering

Waves of crime in Pakistan — including extortion, smuggling and kidnapping for ransom — are major sources of terrorist financing for extremist groups in the country, according to a new government report obtained by Pakistani media.

The report by the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) in Pakistan, titled “National Risk Assessment on Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing 2017,” reportedly details how terror groups generate funds through criminal activities, a Pakistani newspaper reported Thursday.

“Main sources of income of terrorists in Pakistan include foreign funding, drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, extortion from business, vehicle snatching,” according to the 45-page confidential report by FMU, which is an intelligence service department within the Ministry of Finance.

The report, which has not been released publicly, says over 200 local and international terrorist organizations generate billions of Pakistani rupees to fund their activities.

“Annual operational budget of terrorist organizations is from 5 million rupees [about $48,000] to 25 million rupees [about $240,000],” the report said, according to The News website, which published excerpts.

Hawala system

According to the report, terrorist groups also receive money through the hawala system, an alternative or parallel system that operates outside traditional banking and financial channels. The system largely has been used in money laundering.

The income sources include “hawala/hundi,’ cash couriers, [and] dealings in foreign exchange,” the report said. “A part of foreign exchange collected abroad may include funds for terrorist financing, and the rupee counterpart disbursed in Pakistan may help terrorist financing.”

Some terrorist groups get rich off selling military equipment looted from NATO supplies that pass through Pakistani land before arriving in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the report.

The so-called southern route, which runs through Pakistan, is the most direct and cost-effective way to send supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but it is vulnerable to attacks by militants.

Islamabad has frequently been blamed for achieving little progress in combating the financing of terrorist groups in the country.

A U.S. Treasury Department report on terrorist financing last year said many militant groups in Pakistan, including those that “continue to pose a direct threat to the U.S. interests and allies in the region,” fund their activities through proceeds from illegal businesses and charitable organizations.

The Treasury report said the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba group, which was blamed by law enforcement for attacks in 2008 in Mumbai that killed more than 150 people, including six Americans, receives millions of dollars through funding from several humanitarian organizations within Pakistan and private donations.

Government focus

Analysts say the Pakistani government has shown little interest in curbing militants’ financing in the country.

“The issue has been neglected within the framework of the war on terror in Pakistan,” said Fida Hussain, a finance expert in Islamabad. “Combating terror financing and money laundering should have been a priority for the authorities but they don’t seem serious in combating it.”

Pakistani authorities say the government is trying hard to deal with the issue.

“The first thing our government did in the parliament was to come up with a law and measures to prevent money laundering,” Tallal Chaudhry, a member of the standing committee on finance and revenue in Pakistan’s national assembly, told VOA’s Urdu service. “We’ve also worked to stop the flow of illegal funds coming from foreign countries and the money that was being illegally generated in the name of charity in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s Central Bank last year ordered the country’s commercial banks to freeze the accounts of about 4,000 individuals and businesses linked to terrorism.

Analysts say the government is well aware of the income sources for terrorist groups, though it does not go far enough to curb them.

“The government has the ability to combat the terrorist financing, but it lacks a strong a will to do so,” veteran Pashtun politician Afrasiab Khattak told VOA. “It enacts laws, including anti-terrorism laws, but fails to implement them.”

He added that the people are not aware that some of their donations end up strengthening militant groups.

Said Amir Rana, a security analyst: “The Federal Investigative Agency and other agencies have the responsibility to look into the matter and see why they’ve not been able to come up with a plan to curb the illegal economic activities of the terrorists in the country.”

VOA’s Rabia Pir contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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Russia ‘Perhaps’ Supplying Taliban in Afghanistan

Russia may be supplying the Taliban as they fight U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, a top U.S. military commander said Thursday.

” have seen the influence of Russia of late — an increased influence — in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander and U.S. Army General, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Scaparrotti did not elaborate on what kinds of supplies might be provided or how direct Russia’s involvement could be.

His comments are built on suspicions raised last month by General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who testified that Russia is giving the Taliban encouragement and diplomatic cover. Nicholson did not, however, address whether Russia was supplying the terrorist group.

“Russia has been legitimizing the Taliban and supporting the Taliban,” he told VOA’s Afghan service in an interview last month.

Russia, which had an ill-fated intervention in Afghanistan that started in 1979 and ended nearly a decade later, has been trying to exert influence  in the region again and has set up six-country peace talks next week that exclude the United States.

VOA Afghan contributed to this report