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US, Philippine marines launch South China Sea drills

Posted: 08 May 2014 10:10 PM PDT

SAN ANTONIO, Philippines: Scores of US and Filipino marines launched mock assaults on a South China Sea beach in the Philippines on Friday in war games aimed at honing the allies' combat skills.

The exercise came as tensions simmer between the Philippines and China over rival claims to the strategic waters.

Three US rubber raiding craft and two small-unit Filipino riverine boats made repeated sallies at a desolate beach at a northern Philippines navy base in a practise stealth landing of squads of armed marines.

Shouting "Volume Fire!" and "Bounce Up", the teams scrambled up the sloping shore with assault rifles to surround a mocked-up enemy tent before running back to their boats in rapid manoeuvres.

"We're here for the sake of training, to build up and develop our capabilities," US Marines spokesman Captain Jeremy Scheier told AFP when asked if they had a specific enemy target in mind.

"There was no specific scenario," he said, adding that Friday's exercises began well before dawn and involved about 40 US and 80 Filipino marines.

About 5,500 US and Filipino forces are taking part in the annual war games over a two-week period.

At the opening ceremony in Manila last week, Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said this year's joint manoeuvres were designed to help the hosts boost their "maritime capability" to address "challenges" in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, which signed a mutual defence treaty with the United States in 1951, has been involved in increasingly tense maritime confrontations with regional power China, which claims most of the sea including waters close to its neighbours.

The United States has said it takes no position in the territorial dispute.

However US President Barack Obama, on a state visit to Manila last week, warned China against using force in territorial disputes and said Washington would support Manila in the event of an attack. 

In the latest incident on Tuesday, Filipino police detained a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel and detained its 11 crew members.

It has ignored a Chinese demand to free the vessel and crew.

Philippine military spokeswoman Navy Lieutenant Annaleah Cazcarro said the amphibious landing exercises also involved two Filipino navy ships serving as launch pads about 3.7 kilometres (two nautical miles) offshore.

"This was planned years before," she told AFP when asked if the exercises had any bearing on the latest maritime incident involving China, which the Philippines said occurred near Half Moon Shoal, 106 kilometres west of the large western Philippine island of Palawan.

The Philippines on March 30 filed a formal plea asking a United Nations arbitration tribunal to declare as illegal what Manila said was Beijing's claim to 70 percent of the South China Sea.

The seabed in the area is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas and the waters straddle vital sea lanes.

Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead. -AFP

One dead, 30 injured in southern Pakistan quakes

Posted: 08 May 2014 09:40 PM PDT

KARACHI: At least one person was killed and 30 others were injured when a series of quakes hit southern Pakistan on Friday, officials said.

One of the quakes struck at the relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), 27 kilometres (16 miles) northeast of Nawabshah city in Sindh province, with a magnitude of 5.0, an official in the meteorological department told AFP.

He said the quake was felt in Nawabshah and several nearby small towns including Sakrand, Daur, Daulat Pur and Bandhi.

A local administration official, Irfan Kathio, told AFP: "The quake killed at least one person and injured 30 others including women and children."

An emergency has been declared at the city's hospitals and district offices, with schools and colleges closed down, he said. Around 100 houses in Nawabshah had been damaged.

"We received 30 injured in our hospital, of whom one 71-year-old man died of his injuries," Mohammad Hashim, a senior doctor at Nawabshah's civil hospital, told AFP.

He said the condition of five of the injured was critical.

Taj Colony neighbourhood in Nawabshah was the worst affected, resident Ghulam Mustafa told AFP.

The roofs of many of the houses there had crumbled, he said, with electricity supply to the area disrupted.

The quake was followed two aftershocks measuring 4.7 and 4.9 magnitude with epicentres in northeast and northwest of Nawabshah, the meteorology official said.

Pakistan was hit by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake on October 8, 2005, that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A 7.7-magnitude earthquake devastated several areas, including Awaran in southwestern Baluchistan province, in September. It killed at least 376 people and left 100,000 others homeless. -AFP

Greenpeace: Japan imports tonnes of whale meat from Iceland

Posted: 08 May 2014 09:23 PM PDT

TOKYO: Environmentalists on Friday lashed out after Japan imported 2,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat from Iceland, in what they say is continued defiance of world opinion over the hunting of the mammals.

Packages containing meat from fin whales were unloaded Thursday from a vessel that had travelled from Iceland to Osaka, western Japan, said Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan.

The ship left Iceland in March carrying a cargo equivalent to almost all the whale meat imports from the north European country for the last six years, environment groups and news reports said.

An official at the port in Osaka confirmed the arrival of the ship.

"The ship, named Alma, arrived on May 7 and we were informed in advance that it would carry whale meat to be unloaded at Osaka port," he told AFP.

Greenpeace said it was puzzled by the size of the cargo.

"We don't know why Japan had to import such a huge volume of whale meat," accounting for about two thirds of the nation's annual consumption, Sato said.

"No matter what, we oppose such shipments," he added.

In December, Iceland said it had increased its 2014 quotas for whaling in a move likely to intensify international condemnation of the practice.

Since it resumed whaling in 2006 despite an international moratorium, Iceland, along with Norway, has come in for furious criticism from environmental groups and some other countries.

Icelanders eat little whale meat, and most of the catch is sent to the Japanese market.

Japan also hunts whales, but qualifies the activity as scientific research, even though whale meat finds its way to its restaurants.

In March, the United Nations' top court ruled the annual mission to the Southern Ocean by Japanese whaling vessels was a commercial hunt masquerading as science to skirt the international ban.

Tokyo said there would be no hunting in the Southern Ocean in the 2014-15 season, but vessels would be there to carry out "non-lethal research". However, the announcement raised the possibility that harpoon ships would return the following year.

That would put Japan on a collision course with anti-whaling nations like Australia, which brought the case to the International Court of Justice.

Although not difficult to find in Japan, whale meat is not a regular part of most Japanese people's diet.

Vessels involved in Japan's permitted coastal whaling programme and in its "scientific" hunt in the Pacific Ocean left harbour last month.

Supporters argue that the hunting and eating of whale is part of Japan's culture and complain of double standards from anti-whaling nations with large beef industries.

But critics say Tokyo's position is influenced more by a desire to support vested interests in the whaling industry than to protect a source of food that is no longer widely consumed.

They claim the country has large stocks of frozen whale meat from its own hunts that it cannot sell because there is insufficient demand. -AFP


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