Beijing’s new mega airport will challenge Air China’s dominance

Like ancient warlords, China’s three biggest airlines have dominated their regional cities: Air China Ltd. controlling Beijing, China Eastern Airlines Corp. holding sway in the financial center of Shanghai, and China Southern Airlines Co. ruling the roost down in export gateway Guangzhou. Until now.

Rising on a plain south of Beijing is a mega airport that is about to change the balance, bringing all three head to head in the capital as it becomes the world’s biggest aviation hub.

The new airport, due to open in 2019, has been designated by authorities as the hub for members of the SkyTeam alliance, a global group of airlines that includes China Eastern and China Southern. The two Chinese carriers will each be allowed to capture 40 percent of the airport’s passengers, gaining coveted time slots to Europe and the U.S. in Air China’s backyard.

“This is an absolute game-changer for China Eastern and China Southern,” said Corrine Png, chief executive officer of Crucial Perspective in Singapore. “Having all the SkyTeam alliance members under one roof will enable seamless flight connections.”

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The invasion of Air China’s regional rivals has repercussions beyond China. As well as dominating their home bases, the big three Chinese players have each carved out a position abroad. Air China, through its Star Alliance ties with Deutsche Lufthansa AG and United Continental Holdings Inc., commands many of the routes to Europe and North America. China Eastern is the biggest carrier to Japan and South Korea. And China Southern is strong in Australia and Southeast Asia.

With access to more slots in Beijing, China Southern and China Eastern would potentially get more access to lucrative North American routes while their SkyTeam partners would get better access to the Chinese capital. In addition, China Southern, the nation’s biggest airline, would be able to draw traffic from its Southeast Asian links to fly via Beijing to the U.S.

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Soldiers shoot attacker in #Brussels ‘terrorist’ blast

Belgian soldiers shot a terror suspect after an explosion rocked the central train station in Brussels on Tuesday in the latest attack to hit Europe.

Witnesses said the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) before causing the blast, with local media saying the individual had activated an explosive belt.

Authorities reported no casualties, apart from the attacker who was was killed in the confrontation.

Crying passengers were evacuated from the station as the city that hosts the EU’s headquarters was struck by a new attack just over a year after suicide bombers hit the city’s airport and metro system.

“This is considered as a terrorist attack,” federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told a news conference outside Brussels Gare Centrale station.

The blast in Belgium comes a day after a man mowed down Muslims near a mosque in London, and a radical Islamist on a terror watchlist rammed a car laden with weapons into a police vehicle in Paris.

Brussels has been on high alert since suicide bombers struck the city’s airport and metro in March 2016, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds more.

The Islamic State group claimed the attacks, which were carried out by the same Brussels-based cell behind the November 2016 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Van Der Sypt said that at about 1830 GMT there has was a “small explosion at Central Station here in Brussels.”

“The suspect has been neutralized by the military that were present at the scene immediately after the explosion,” the spokesman said. “He is dead.”

There were no other casualties, Van Der Sypt said.

The incident happened well after rush hour, but hundreds of passengers were still evacuated from one of Belgium’s busiest stations. The nearby Grand Place, a major tourist destination, was also evacuated.

“There were people crying, there were people shouting,” said Elisa Roux, a spokeswoman for the Belgian rail company SNCB.

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At least 62 killed in forest fire still raging in Portugal

A huge forest fire raging since Saturday in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, most of them dying in their cars as they tried to flee, the government said on Sunday,

“The dimension of this fire was such that we don’t have memory of such a human tragedy,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in Pedrogao Grande, the mountainous region about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon.

Most victims were caught in their vehicles on the road while fleeing flames that were destroying their homes. The prime minister said the death toll could rise as firefighters inspected charred remains of some buildings in remote villages.

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which has fanned the flames.

The prime minister said the emergency services acted as fast as they could but acknowledged that some of the efforts like alerting the population might have been hindered because the blaze had ruined phone lines and communications towers.

“What happened was cables and communications towers were destroyed by the fire, even their first replacements melted,” he said. “But nothing compromised the firefighting efforts.”

Most communications have been restored, but Costa called on residents listen to the radio and heed any official advice.

The government declared three days of mourning and sent two army battalions to help the emergency services. The European Union said it would provide firefighting aircraft. France has offered three planes and Spain has sent two, authorities said.

Speaking in the Vatican, Pope Francis, who visited Portugal last month, mentioned the victims in his weekly address.

“I am close to the dear people of Portugal, hit by a devastating fire which is raging in the forests around Pedrogao Grande, causing many victims and injuries. Let us pray in silence,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a Twitter message: “Solidarity with Portugal, hit by terrible fires. Our thoughts are with victims. France makes its aid available to Portugal”.

In one village of Nodeirinho, where 11 residents died, state television RTP showed burned out cars and blackened houses. Shocked residents said a whole family that was trying to flee their home in a car had been caught in “a tornado of flames”.

“It does not seem real, it is out of this world … It is a real inferno, we have never seen anything like that,” the mayor of Pedrogao Grande Valdemar Alves told reporters, adding that more than 20 villages had been affected.

Alongside 62 confirmed dead, another 54 people have been injured and taken to hospitals. Four are in a serious condition.

More than 600 firefighters were still battling the flames on Sunday. Several local highways were shut for safety reasons.

The authorities said very low smoke clouds prevented helicopters and fire planes dropping water on the flames efficiently for most of the day.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited the site at night and expressed his condolences. He said that “it was not possible to do more than what has been done” in prevention and responding to the fire.

Some local residents said they had been left without firefighters for hours as their homes burned. Many blamed poor forestry reserve planning and depopulation of remote villages that left many wooded areas untended.

By Rafael Marchante and Andrei Khalip | PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal

(Writing by Andrei Khalip; Additional reporting by Axel Bugge, Maya Nikolayeva in Paris, Crispian Balmer in Rome and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Larry King and Edmund Blair)

Source – AD + Reuters

58 presumed dead in #London tower fire: Police

The presumed death toll from the London tower block inferno jumped to 58 on Saturday as embattled Prime Minister Theresa May, accused of misreading the growing anger over the tragedy, pledged action after meeting survivors desperately seeking answers.

Dozens of people were still missing three days after the 24-storey Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames, and worries over the safety of the apartment block’s charred wreck has slowed the search for human remains.

Sixteen bodies have been taken to a mortuary, and the first victim formally identified was named as Mohammad Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee.

Queen Elizabeth II said the disaster had cast a sombre pall over Britain, but insisted the country was showing resolve in the face of adversity.

But public anger has been swelling, with furious residents heckling May and storming the local authority headquarters on Friday.

They demanded justice for the victims and claimed Wednesday’s fatal blaze was due to negligence, with many citing the new cladding put on the 1974 concrete tower.

‘Death trap’

“It was a death trap, and they knew it,” one person shouted as demonstrators surged inside the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea council, responsible for managing the social housing block in a working-class enclave of one of Britain’s richest districts.

Police said Saturday that their investigation would look at the building and its 2016 refurbishment, and vowed to bring prosecutions “if there is evidence”.

“There are 58 people who we have been told were in Grenfell Tower on the night that are missing and therefore, sadly, I have to assume that they are dead,” police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters at the scene.

He said that number could change should further information come to light.

The area surrounding the tower has been plastered by distraught relatives with pictures of the missing, from grandparents to young children.

Morocco said seven of its nationals were among the dead.

May was criticized for avoiding locals when she visited the disaster site on Thursday and faced cries of “Shame on you” and “coward” when she returned the following day, with police breaking up scuffles.

On Saturday May met a group of 15 victims, residents, volunteers and community leaders at her Downing Street office. Demonstrators gathered outside, protesting about several issues including the fire.

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Russia says may have killed Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The Russian army on Friday said it hit Islamic State leaders in an airstrike in Syria last month and was seeking to verify whether IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.

In a statement, the army said Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute night-time strike on May 28 at a location near Raqa, where IS leaders had gathered to plan a pullout by militants from the group’s stronghold.

“Senior commanders of the military groups of the so-called IS military council, 30 mid-ranking field commanders and up to 300 militants who provided security for them were eliminated,” it said.

“According to information which is being checked through various channels, the leader of ISIL Ibrahim Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was also present at the meeting and was eliminated by the strike,” it said.

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ISIL is an acronym for the so-called IS group, also known as ISIS and Daesh.

The US has been informed about the attack, the statement added.

Elusive IS supremo Baghdadi has not been seen in public since proclaiming himself “caliph” in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago.

His group has earned global notoriety for imposing a hardline form of Islam that has included stonings, beheadings and amputations.

The Iraqi-born world’s most-wanted man has been rumoured wounded or killed a number of times in the past.

He has been nicknamed “The Ghost” as he has been reportedly spotted around the Syrian-Iraqi border but his whereabouts have never been confirmed.

US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces broke into the IS bastion of Raqa last Tuesday for the first time since it became a hub of the group’s self-declared caliphate and the scene of its most gruesome atrocities.

Source – TheJakartaPost

inferno Grenfell Tower in #London

Fire safety at London’s Grenfell Tower placed under review last year
Residents warned of ‘dangerous living conditions’ as owner ordered changes to way it handled fire risk in its properties.

Residents of Grenfell Tower have said they raised multiple concerns about the risk of fire in the months before the fatal blaze, but were “brushed away” by the council’s tenant management organisation.

Survivors of the disaster said on Wednesday they had raised fears about the fact that there was only one escape route. They also told the Kensington and Chelsea tenant management organisation (KCTMO) of their concerns over the placement of boilers and gas pipes, the absence of a building-wide fire alarm or sprinkler system, and piles of rubbish being dumped and causing a fire risk.

Investigations have begun into the cause of the fire and how it swept so rapidly up the 24 storeys, apparently spreading across a new thermal cladding system installed last year as part of a £10m refurbishment.

Only last November, residents in the Grenfell Action Group had warned about “dangerous living conditions” and said: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO.”

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#Qatar Airways extends network with new #Dublin route

Qatar Airways landed in Dublin on Monday, inaugurating a new daily service connecting the Irish city to the airline’s growing network, according to a statement.

The flight, with its next-generation Airbus A350, marked the special occasion, as Qatar Airways’ daily Dublin service would continue to operate with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has a two-class configuration that includes 22 seats in Business Class and 232 seats in Economy Class.

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker welcomed the new route as an “important milestone” for the airline.

“The new service will connect the Irish people with more destinations globally and provide them the opportunity to experience our five-star service,” Akbar said in a statement on its website.

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The Dublin route marks the airline’s first service to Ireland, which connects passengers to its network to the Middle East, Asia and Australia, as well as easing connections to Australia and Hong Kong.

The route also provides Qatar Airways Cargo customers 80 metric tons of belly-hold capacity each week, a service that boasts temperature-controlled facilities, including for perishables, the statement further said.

Following the Dublin launch, the carrier is set to add flights to more destination through 2017 and 2018, including Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Accra, Ghana; Canberra, Australia; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Chittagong, Bangladesh; Mombasa, Kenya; and Utapao, Thailand.

Read also: Qatar Airways to loan laptops to passengers

Source – TheJakartaPost

#Panama switches to #China, cuts ties with #Taiwan

BEIJING – Panama and China announced Tuesday they were establishing diplomatic relations, as the Central American nation became the latest to dump Taiwan for closer ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

The move prompted an angry response from Taiwan and will likely further strain ties between Taipei and Beijing, which considers the self-ruled island a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland.

Taiwan is recognized by around 20 countries worldwide and its status is one of the most politically sensitive issues for Chinese leaders who pressure trade partners to accept its “one China” principle.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said in a nationally televised message “to the country and the world” that “Panama and China establish diplomatic relations today”.

The two countries issued a joint statement saying: “In light of the interests and wishes of both peoples, the Republic of Panama and People’s Republic of China have decided to grant each other, from the date of this document’s signing, mutual recognition, establishment of diplomatic ties at the ambassadorial level.”

After decades of siding with Taiwan in the disagreement over its status, Panama now “recognises that there is only one China in the world” and that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory.

 Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Panamanian counterpart Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado signed the communique in Beijing.

“This is a historic moment, China-Panama relations have opened a new chapter,” Wang said, adding that Panama’s decision was in “complete accordance” with its people’s interests and “in keeping with the times”.

Saint Malo said Panama and China had made an “important step” and started a “new page in our strategic relations”

The announcement comes after Beijing began construction last week of a container port, with natural gas facilities, in Panama’s northern province of Colon.

Panama had long stressed it had diplomatic ties with Taipei and commercial ones with Beijing.

Chinese ships, after those from the United States, are the number two users of the Panama Canal, the Central American country’s main source of budget revenue.

Taiwan’s anger 

Panama is the latest country to cut ties with Taiwan.

In December China signed an agreement to restore diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe after the African nation ditched the island.

Taiwan reacted furiously to the latest move.

“We strongly condemn Beijing for manipulating the so-called ‘one China’ policy to continue to suppress Taiwan’s international space through various means,” the presidential office said.

“This kind of action is not only an open threat to Taiwanese people’s survival and welfare but also an open provocation to peace and stability in the Taiwan strait and the region.”

Diplomatic tussles between Taiwan and Beijing eased under the island’s previous Beijing-friendly government.

But relations have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen’s China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party was swept to power in a landslide election victory last year.

Tsai has refused to acknowledge the concept that Taiwan is part of “one China”, unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

Cross-strait tensions have been further exacerbated by a highly unusual call from Tsai to congratulate then US President-elect Donald Trump, who questioned Washington’s policy towards the island, including its decision to not formally recognize its government.

Source – TheNation

The Smurfs are now the tourism ambassadors of Brussels

The campaign was launched simultaneously in cities across Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain, with the assistance of the Brussels-born blue inhabitants who were dispatched to promote their city.

The Brussels tourism office is dispatching a special delegation of Smurfs as part of a major tourism campaign aimed at bringing back tourists following last year’s terrorist attack.

Dubbed “Where will Brussels take you” the tourism offensive is meant to boost lagging visitor numbers following the terror attacks which killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and metro station last spring.

“Numerous actions were undertaken immediately after the attacks and have yielded positive results,” said Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President in a statement.

“We have witnessed a very clear recovery of tourism in Brussels at the beginning of the year.

The campaign ‘Where will Brussels take you’ represents an additional effort and aims at revealing our region’s hidden secrets – the best and most remarkable of what Brussels has to offer.”

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The campaign was launched simultaneously in cities across Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain, with the assistance of the Brussels-born blue inhabitants who were dispatched to promote their city.

An online platform called ­takemeto.­brussels has also been launched to help visitors personalise their trip.

The site offers recommendations on the best restaurants, Instagram-worthy sites, museums for kids, best coffee and wine bars.

As part of the promotional campaign, the tourism office is also giving away a city break to Brussels every week, which includes accommodation and transportation within Europe.

The campaign ends Oct 31.

Read also: It’s time to visit Smurf village

Source – TheJakartaPost

Rafael Nadal wins record-breaking 10th French Open

Rafael Nadal coasted to a record 10th French Open title on Sunday, demolishing Stan Wawrinka in a brutally one-sided final which also earned the Spaniard a 15th Grand Slam crown.

Nadal, 31, triumphed 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 to become the first man in history to win the same major 10 times.

His collection of Slams now stands just three behind great rival Roger Federer, a staggering statistic coming just a year after he quit Roland Garros with a wrist injury.

Playing in his 22nd Grand Slam final, Nadal triumphed in Paris without dropping a set for a third time.

He also lost just 35 games in total and only six in the final, his most comprehensive victory since allowing Roger Federer four games in the 2008 final.

“It’s really incredible. To win La Decima is very, very special,” said Nadal.

“I am very emotional. The feeling I have is impossible to describe.

“It’s difficult to compare with other tournaments but the nerves and adrenaline I feel, it’s like no other place.”

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Once Hollywood A-lister Nicole Kidman had helped unbox the Coupe des Mousquetaires to a crowd already wilting in 30-degree heat, the final was underway.

It was the 22nd Slam finale for Nadal; just the fourth for Wawrinka, the oldest man in the championship match in 44 years.

Sunday was also the first time since 1969 that the Roland Garros final had featured two men over 30.

Despite having spent more than five hours on court getting to the final, 2015 champion Wawrinka had the first break point in the third game.

The 32-year-old couldn’t take it and it proved to be the only break point he earned all afternoon.

From there, it was all downhill.

Nadal was unable to convert four break points in the fourth game.

No matter as he broke through for 4-2 and then went to set point in the eighth game after a relentless forehand barrage sapped the will out of Wawrinka.

A backhand which sailed long gave Nadal the first set with the Spaniard having crunched 10 winners to Wawrinka’s four while committing half the unforced errors.

Nadal forced Wawrinka into another forehand error to break for 2-0 in the second set before the Swiss halted a run of seven games lost with a hold for 1-3.

But the song remained the same, Nadal taking the set in the ninth game, just moments after Wawrinka, who knocked out world number one Andy Murray in the semis, had destroyed a racquet in utter frustration.

First game of the third set and Nadal broke again as the man who stunned him in the 2014 Australian Open final suffered further damage.

Nadal was soon a double break to the good for 4-1, held for 5-1 and then claimed a huge slice of history when Wawrinka limply dropped a backhand into the net.

Source – TheJakartaPost