- U.S. East Coast in Irene's path, rushes to prepare
- China denounces Pentagon report, defends military modernisation
- ANALYSIS - Turkey eyes political role, deals in Libya
Posted: 25 Aug 2011 08:59 PM PDT
NASSAU (Reuters) - U.S. Atlantic coastal residents from the barrier islands of North Carolina to the capital in Washington and the financial center of New York rushed to prepare on Thursday for an assault by powerful Hurricane Irene.
From the Carolinas to Cape Cod, more than 50 million people were potentially in Irene's path. States, cities, ports, industries, oil refineries and nuclear plants scrambled to activate emergency plans, while residents stocked up on food and water and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats.
The U.S. Navy sent the ships of its Second Fleet out of port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to ride out the expected powerful storm at sea.
Irene battered the low-lying Bahamas southeast of Florida as a major category 3 storm on Thursday and was expected to sweep northward to hit the North Carolina coast on Saturday, before raking the remaining Atlantic seaboard.
"All the major metropolitan areas along the Northeast are going to be impacted," National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read told Reuters Insider. "Being a large hurricane, tropical storm-force winds will extend far inland."
Reuters Hurricane Tracker, click http://r.reuters.com/san78n
National Hurricane Center, click http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Skeetobite Weather, click http://www.skeetobiteweather.com
Weather Underground, click http://www.wunderground.com/tropical
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, authorizing federal aid to support the state's storm response.
After hitting North Carolina, Irene was expected to weaken to a still-dangerous Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, still strong enough to slam dozens of Atlantic beach communities in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia this weekend before heading to New York on Monday. A Category 2 storm carries winds of 96 to 110 mph (154-177 kph).
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate briefed Obama and other top officials on the threat from Irene, which included tropical-storm-force winds or worse in Washington.
Irene forced the postponement of Sunday's dedication ceremony for the new memorial honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington.
Amtrak canceled train service south from Washington at least through Sunday.
Coastal evacuations were under way in North Carolina and were ordered for beach resorts in Virginia, Delaware and Maryland. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell urged residents to seek shelter by Friday night, before the winds kick up.
"Saturday is going to be a horrendous day for travel. There will be roads and bridges closed," he said.
Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New Jersey. The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut declared emergencies for Irene.
"From a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year event," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
NEW YORK READIES
Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.
At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), Irene had sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph). It was moving north and its center was about 490 miles (785 km south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the United States' most populous city was bracing for at least tropical storm conditions and flooding starting on Sunday. Irene could hit Long Island, which extends due east from the city, as a Category 2 hurricane.
New York City hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying areas were ordered to evacuate unless they obtained permission to stay open.
"The city has already seen the power of Mother Nature once this week, and Mother Nature may not be done with us yet," Bloomberg said, referring to Tuesday's earthquake that shook the East Coast, frightening millions but causing no deaths.
He urged residents of vulnerable areas to move to safety on Friday because the New York City mass transit system, the nation's biggest with 8 million passengers a day, may have to shut down on Saturday if flooding or high winds endanger its buses, subways and commuter trains. Many New Yorkers do not have cars.
Irene was a huge storm and forecasters warned that even if the center stays offshore as it tracks up the Mid-Atlantic coast, its wide bands could lash cities like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York with winds and flooding rain, uprooting trees and knocking out power.
STORM SURGE WARNING
Forecasters emphasized the risks for the densely populated U.S. Northeast, which has not had a direct hit from a hurricane in decades. Hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private forecaster Weather Underground wrote in his blog that Irene could inundate the Northeast coast with 10 to 15 feet (3-4.5 meters) of water, "the highest storm surge depths ever recorded."
Flooding from Irene killed at least one person in Puerto Rico and two in the Dominican Republic. The storm cut power in the Bahamian capital Nassau on Thursday and blocked roadways with fallen trees.
The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency said there were reports that 90 percent of the homes and structures were destroyed in some settlements in the southeast Acklins and Crooked Islands.
The storm missed Florida but whipped up massive swells along its coast. Eight people were injured in the southeast city of Boynton Beach on Thursday when they went out on a jetty to gawk at the sea and were knocked down by a giant wave.
(Additional reporting by Tom Brown and Manuel Rueda in Miami, Daniel Trotta and Joan Gralla in New York; Vicki Allen, Laura MacInnis, Lisa Lambert and Deborah Charles in Washington; Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Philip Barbara)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 25 Aug 2011 08:59 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - A U.S. Pentagon report that warned China's military modernisation could destabilise the region engaged in exaggeration and "groundless suspicion," the Chinese Ministry of Defence said on Friday in Beijing's first official response to the report.
"China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition," the ministry said in comments faxed to Reuters.
The ministry said the U.S. report, released earlier this week, "exaggerated the so-called mainland military threat to Taiwan," the self-ruled island that Beijing deems an illegitimate breakaway province.
"It is very normal for the Chinese military to develop and upgrade some weapons and armaments," said the Chinese defence ministry.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 25 Aug 2011 08:28 PM PDT
ANKARA (Reuters) - Hesitant at first to dump one-time friend Muammar Gaddafi and to back NATO operations, Turkey is taking a lead role in efforts to rebuild Libya now the Libyan leader is on the run, eyeing billion dollar deals and hoping to extend its influence in north Africa.
Muslim Turkey, a rising diplomatic and political power in the Middle East and in North Africa, had close political ties with Gaddafi and Turkish companies had projects worth more than $15 billion in the oil producing nation last year.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who in February said NATO intervention in Libya was "out of the question", once received the Gaddafi International peace prize from Gaddafi himself.
But as the revolt spread, forcing the evacuation of thousands of Turks and leaving unfinished projects behind, and as Gaddafi grew more isolated internationally, Ankara shifted its position.
It reluctantly backed NATO operations, called on Gaddafi to step down and recognised the rebels as Libya's legitimate government. Ankara has provided the rebel National Transitional Council, the new masters of much of Libya, with $300 million in cash, loans and other aid.
Speaking at a Libya Contact Group meeting of senior diplomats in Istanbul on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged the United Nations to unfreeze Libyan assets and pledged full international support for a stable, prosperous and democratic Libya.
Analysts say Turkey's approach has highlighted the challenges Ankara faces as it throws itself to the forefront of diplomacy in the Middle East and Africa and beyond while trying to look after its interests in the wake of Arab Spring revolts.
"Turkey is taking the lead in post-Gaddafi Libya to secure its extensive commercial interests and it wants to demonstrate it is an indispensable player in the Middle East and in Africa," said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert from the London-based Chatham House think- tank.
"Libya will become a theatre for competing economic interests. The U.S., France, Italy and Britain have the leg up in securing their interests for taking the lead in assisting in the removal of Gaddafi. But commercial opportunities are big enough to accommodate many countries, including Turkey."
Davutoglu was the first international dignitary to visit Benghazi on Tuesday after rebels fighting to end Gaddafi's 42-year-old rule, backed by NATO air strikes, entered Tripoli.
Aref al-Nayed, Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, was quick to praise Turkey, which is the current term president of the Libya Contact Group made up of the nations that opposed Gaddafi's campaign to crush the rebellion.
"We expect the world community to follow the wonderful support of Turkey, its leading role and effort. Turkey has done an amazing job," Nayed told reporters at the Istanbul meeting.
FRIENDS AND BUSINESS
Helped by a foreign policy aimed at winning friends and business, Turkish firms have gone aggressively into the Middle East and Africa, particularly North Africa.
This drive, which has helped European Union candidate and long-time NATO member Turkey become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has come as Ankara pursued a "zero problems with neighbours" policy.
In Libya, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire until it lost the province to Italy in the early 20th Century, Turkish companies had projects worth $15.3 billion.
While Ankara courts Libya's government-in-waiting, businessmen are waiting for the situation to calm before they can return and expect the National Transition Council to use unfrozen assets to honour pending payments to Turkish companies.
"Turkey will be taking an active role in the country," Riza Nur Meral, chairman of the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey told Turkish media.
"The chance that Turkish firms will return to the war-stricken country is very high."
At the same time, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said he wanted state-owned oil and gas exploration company TPAO to resume oil exploration and production work in Libya if security is established.
Turkey's policy of championing democracy and Arab Spring aspirations while befriending the region's autocratic leaders will face a further test in Syria, analysts said.
Turkey, which has forged close political and economic ties with neighbour Syria, is bitterly frustrated at President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrators demanding an end to his 11 years in power.
"Libya and Syria have underlined the soft belly of Turkey's zero problems with neighbours because zero problems with neighbours means zero problems with regimes," said Sinan Ulgen, from the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.
"Turkey's foreign policy has become subservient to its economic interests in the region but in Syria it will also be forced to take the right side of history."
Ulgen predicted Turkey-Syria relations will eventually come to a head if Assad keeps ignoring international calls to end his crackdown. Davutoglu, who met Assad in Damascus earlier this month, said Turkey had issued its "final word".
Senior Turkish officials admit Syria -- an ally of Shi'ite Iran with a volatile ethnic and religious mix lying in a web of regional conflicts -- will be a particularly challenging case.
Unlike the United States and the European Union, Turkey has not called on Assad to step down. If Turkey sides with the West on Syria, Tehran might regard Ankara's move as treason. Turkey and Iran have also forged closer ties in recent years.
Almost all governments had abandoned Gaddafi, except Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, so cutting ties with him was relatively easy.
"Libya was one thing but Syria is another. The Iranians are not going to let Syria go that easy," a Turkish official said.
(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Matthew Jones)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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