Major Quake Hits Chile; No Tsunami, Little Damage

A 6.7-magnitude earthquake has shaken cities on Chile’s northern coast. No damages have been reported so far, but Chile’s National Emergency Office ordered a preventative evacuation of a stretch of coast near the city of Coquimbo.

Chilean authorities said the quake didn’t have the characteristics that would generate a tsunami. The U.S. Tsunami Warning System also ruled out a tsunami.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the magnitude-6.7 quake was 15.6 kilometers (9.7 miles) south-southwest of Coquimbo, and had a depth of 53 kilometers. It struck at 7:32 p.m. local time.

A witness told Reuters there was minor damage to older buildings and power outages in the nearby coastal city of La Serena, a popular beach town about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Santiago.

“It felt very strong … the tourists were very nervous, but nothing serious happened,” Camila Castillo, a receptionist at a hotel in La Serena, told Reuters.

Chilean miner Antofagasta Plc said operations were normal at its Los Pelambres copper mine following the nearby earthquake.

Chile is located along the so-called Ring of Fire, which makes it one of the most seismic countries in the world. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami in 2010 killed 525 people.

Mexico Pipeline Blast Death Toll Climbs to More Than 70

The death toll from Friday’s fuel pipeline explosion in central Mexico has climbed to 73, the governor of the country’s Hidalgo state said.

Governor Omar Fayad also said Saturday at a news conference in Mexico City that at least 74 others were injured.

A leak and the resulting blast were caused by fuel thieves illegally tapping into a gas pipeline in Hidalgo state, officials said.

Video footage showed the fuel gushing into the air and people collecting gas in buckets, garbage cans and other containers before the explosion.

A number of people at the scene told Reuters that local shortages in gasoline supply since Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a drive to stamp out fuel theft had encouraged the rush to the gushing pipeline.

“Everyone came to see if they could get a bit of gasoline for their car, there isn’t any in the gas stations,” said farmer Isaias Garcia, 50. Garcia was at the site with two neighbors, but waited in the car some distance away. “Some people came out burning and screaming,” he added.

Fayad said the condition of many of the injured was deteriorating, and that some had burns on much of their body. Some of the most badly injured minors could be moved for medical attention in Galveston, Texas, he added.

“I urge the entire population not to be complicit in fuel theft,” Fayad said. “Apart from being illegal, it puts your life and those of your families at risk.”

Lopez Obrador, who has launched a crackdown on fuel theft, called on “the entire government” to assist the people at the site of the explosion.

The government says fuel theft costs the country about $3 billion a year.

 

Survivors: Up to 117 Missing From Sunken Boat Off Libya 

Three survivors of the sinking of a rubber dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya say up to 117 other migrants were aboard at the time, a U.N. migration official said Saturday. 

It appeared to be the latest tragedy on the dangerous central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe. 

Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Italian state TV that “unfortunately about 120” migrants were reported by survivors to have been on the overloaded smugglers’ dinghy when it was launched from Libyan shores on Thursday evening. 

“After a few hours, it began sinking and people began drowning,” Di Giacomo said. 

Among the missing were 10 women and two children, including a 2-month-old baby, he said. Survivors indicated their fellow migrants came from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Sudan, Di Giacomo said. 

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who has urged that the government show more compassion for migrants, expressed his “deep sorrow for the tragedy that has taken place in the Mediterranean.” 

Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters he was “shocked” at the reports of the sinking and vowed that Italy would continue to combat human traffickers. 

Italy’s populist government has banned private rescue boats from bringing migrants to Italian shores. Together with Malta, Italy has also launched probes of the rescue groups themselves, claiming their operations might facilitate trafficking. 

Friday rescue

The three survivors of the sinking were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter on Friday afternoon, the navy said.  

The Italian navy said when its patrol plane spotted the sinking dinghy it had about 20 persons aboard. The plane’s crew launched two life rafts near the dinghy, which inflated, and a navy destroyer 100 nautical miles (200 kilometers) away sent a helicopter to the scene.  

That helicopter rescued the survivors, two from a life raft and one from the water, the navy said, adding that all had hypothermia. 

They were flown to Lampedusa, an Italian island near Sicily, and treated in a hospital, Di Giacomo said.   

Many migrants cannot afford to pay for life vests, an extra cost when boarding a smuggler’s boat in Libya. The survivors said the migrants aboard the dinghy didn’t have any. 

It wasn’t immediately clear exactly how many migrants might have died before the navy plane spotted the sinking dinghy. 

The Italian Coast Guard says Libya asked a nearby cargo ship to search for survivors but the ship reported it found no one. 

Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Gassim said one of its boats was sent Friday to the scene but it “had a mechanical issue and we had to call it back.” The official said 50 migrants were believed to have been aboard the dinghy when it set sail. 

According to the IOM, at least 2,297 people died at sea or went missing trying to reach Europe in 2018. In all, 116,959 migrants reached Europe by sea routes last year, it says. 

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said Saturday it was “appalled” at the news of the latest migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. In a statement from its Geneva headquarters, it said in addition to those missing off Libya, 53 people died in recent days in the western Mediterranean, where one survivor was rescued by a fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea.  

Can’t be ignored

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the high numbers of people dying on Europe’s doorstep,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. 

Italy has trained and equipped the Libyan coast guard so it can intercept and rescue more migrant boats closer to their shores. But U.N. refugee officials and rights advocates say the migrants rescued by the Libyans are returned to dangerous, overcrowded detention facilities, where detainees face insufficient rations, rape, beatings and torture. 

Libyan navy official Ayoub Gassim said Saturday that the Libyan navy had stopped two smuggling boats, one with 67 migrants aboard and the other with 20.  

In a separate operation, the German rescue group Sea-Watch said it rescued 47 people from a rubber boat off the coast of Libya. 

After Italy’s populist government took power in June 2018, the number of migrants reaching Italy after rescue at sea dropped off sharply, as anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to let humanitarian rescue vessels enter Italian ports.

Salvini says Italy has received hundreds of thousands of migrants rescued from Libyan-based smugglers in unseaworthy boats in the last few years and demands that other European Union countries do their part. 

After the latest sea tragedy, Salvini said that when humanitarian rescue boats patrol off Libya, “the smugglers resume their dirty trafficking [and] people start dying again.” 

Clashes Break Out in France in Latest ‘Yellow Vest’ Protest

Clashes broke out throughout France on Saturday, as an estimated 84,000 “yellow vest” demonstrators took to the streets in a 10th consecutive weekend of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government. 

The demonstrations passed off relatively peacefully in Paris where 7,000 turned up, although Reuters Television reporters saw scuffles briefly break out between police and demonstrators, some wearing masks, in the capital’s Invalides district. 

Protesters threw firecrackers, bottles and stones at police, who responded with water canon and tear gas to push them back. 

“Macron, resign!” some protesters shouted. 

The protests, named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to carry in their cars, began in November over plans to raise fuel taxes. The number of demonstrators on Saturday was roughly the same as last week’s figure.  

The fuel tax hikes were subsequently scrapped, yet the movement has morphed into a broader protest against Macron’s government and general anger over taxes and the cost of living. 

“How can we continue to live with so little?” said Bernard Grignan, a 65-year old retired manager who took part in the Paris demonstrations. 

 

Trouble in Toulouse

In Paris, some demonstrators carried mock coffins symbolizing the 10 people who have died during the protests, mainly because of accidents when demonstrators blocked roads. 

December’s demonstrations saw some of the worst violence in decades in Paris, as rioters burned cars and vandalized shops. 

Protests in Paris this month have not seen the same level of trouble, although video of a former French boxing champion punching and kicking police in Paris shocked many. 

Despite a relative decline in crowd trouble in Paris, however, disturbances have flared up in other cities. 

According to official figures, the biggest demonstration on Saturday occurred in the southern city of Toulouse, where around 10,000 people took part. The demonstration turned violent as evening fell, as protesters vandalized a bank and other shops. 

Eight people were injured and there were 23 arrests. Reuters correspondents also reported disturbances in Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille, while the local government building was attacked in Angers, northwest of Paris. 

Macron has launched a series of national debates to help quell public discontent and restore his standing.  

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen — soundly beaten by Macron in the 2017 presidential election — is looking to take advantage of the “yellow vest” crisis and win ground in the May 2019 European Parliament elections. 

‘Legitimate’ revolt

On Saturday, Le Pen reiterated her support for the protesters at a meeting near Marseille, at which she described the movement as a “legitimate” and “courageous” revolt. 

The Angers member of Parliament, Matthieu Orphelin, a member of Macron’s LREM centrist party, said he would cancel talks with members of the “yellow vests” in light of the trouble in Angers. 

“It fills me with fury to see our beautiful town attacked in this way, in particular the damage caused to symbols of the republic,” Orphelin said in a statement. 

Colombia Asks Cuba to Arrest ELN Leaders

Following a deadly suicide truck bombing on a police academy near Bogota, the president of Colombia has called on Cuba to arrest 10 commanders of the Colombian ELN rebel group who are in Havana.

Ivan Duque said late Friday he is asking Cuba to “capture the terrorists who are inside its territory and hand them over to Colombian police.” He said no ideology could justify the cruelty of Thursday’s attack.

“It’s clear to all of Colombia that the ELN has no true desire for peace,” Duque said Friday in a televised address.

​Cuba responds

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, said in a statement, that Cuba “will act with strict respect for the Protocols of Dialogue and Peace signed by the Government and the ELN, including the Protocol In Case of a Rupture in Negotiations.”

The ELN commanders have been in Cuba following stalled peace talks there with Colombia.

Colombian authorities say Jose Aldemar Rojas, a one-armed ELN explosives expert, carried out the attack that killed 21 people and wounded dozens more. Officials say Rojas died in the attack.

“This was an operation that has been planned for the past 10 months,” said Defense Minister Guillermo Botero.

Largest rebel group

The ELN has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

The rebel group, however, has increased attacks on police since peace talks in Cuba stalled when the rebels refused to heed the government’s demand to free all hostages.

ELN is now the country’s largest armed rebel group since FARC disbanded and turned into a political party as part of a peace deal with the government.

Despite a long history of guerrilla violence in Colombia, major terrorist bombings in the country have been rare.

James Webb Telescope Prepping for Launch

Humanity’s efforts to move into and peer into space seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance in the past few weeks. NASA’s pictures of Ultima Thule continue to astound, as do Chinese pictures from their probe on the far side of the moon. Coming soon, the James Webb Telescope will allow NASA to look even farther into the great beyond. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Mexico Pipeline Blast Death Toll Climbs to 66

The death toll from Friday’s fuel pipeline explosion in central Mexico has climbed to 66, the governor of the country’s Hidalgo state said.

Governor Omar Fayad also said Saturday at a news conference in Mexico City that at least 76 others were injured.

Authorities initially said 20 people had been killed and at least 60 others were badly burned.

A leak and the resulting blast were caused by fuel thieves illegally tapping into the pipeline in Hidalgo state, officials said.

Video footage showed the fuel gushing into the air and people collecting the oil in buckets, garbage cans and other containers before the explosion.  

“I urge the entire population not to be complicit in fuel theft,” said Hidalgo Governor Fayad. “Apart from being illegal, it puts your life and those of your families at risk.”

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has launched a crackdown on oil theft, called on “the entire government” to assist the people at the site of the fuel explosion.

The government says fuel theft costs the country about $3 billion a year.

Greeks Plan Massive Rally to Protest Deal With Macedonia

Demonstrators in Greece are planning a massive rally Sunday to protest a deal that would normalize Greek relations with Macedonia.

Greeks have been divided over the deal, in which Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia and Greece will drop its objections to the Balkan country’s joining NATO and the European Union.

The U.S. State Department said in a tweet Friday that Sunday’s demonstration in Athens is expected to draw 150,000 or more participants.

Greek identity

Greek protesters say Macedonia’s new name represents an attempt to appropriate Greek identity and cultural heritage. Macedonia is the name of Greece’s northern province made famous by Alexander the Great’s conquests.

Opposition to the deal is particularly strong in the Greek province of Macedonia, where many people have put up posters urging local lawmakers to vote against the agreement.

A nationwide poll in Greece this week found that 70 percent of respondents oppose the deal.

The agreement has caused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to lose his four-year coalition in parliament after his nationalist allies defected to protest the deal. Following the upheaval, Tsipras narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament Wednesday.

Tsipras has called for a televised debate on the planned name deal with Macedonia before parliament votes on the agreement.

The Greek prime minister and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, brokered the compromise in June to end a 27-year name dispute between the two neighbors.

​Macedonia approves

Last week, Macedonia’s parliament approved a constitutional revision to change the country’s name. The agreement has also caused protests in Macedonia, with critics there saying the government gave up too much in the deal.

Tsipras has argued the Macedonia deal will bolster stability in Europe’s Balkan region. European Union countries have also strongly backed the deal.

Miami Airport Haitian Restaurant Looks Out for TSA Agents 

When Wilkinson Sejour, owner of Chef Creole, the only Haitian restaurant at the Miami International airport, noticed TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents were no longer coming in to buy meals, he found it odd and wondered what was going on.

Sejour learned they were federal workers affected by the U.S. government’s partial shutdown. The federal security screeners are among hundreds of thousands of federal employees working without pay until President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats resolve a political dispute over construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

So Sejour devised a plan to show his appreciation.

“We’ve been at the airport for four months now, and they support us every day,” he told VOA Creole. “I thought if they were there since the beginning and helped me make money, now that they’re having problems, I have to thank them for their support and try to help them.”

The Chef Creole restaurant owner decided to offer free meals for a week — lunch and dinner — for TSA agents, customs inspectors and other federal employees working at the airport. They lined up to partake in the offerings, or sent a colleague to get meals for agents who were too busy to walk over to the restaurant.

“Food is important, more important than money — when you have food you’re OK,” Sejour noted.

So far, Chef Creole has distributed 1,400 free meals.  Sejour said he doesn’t have a lot of resources. He said he worried about how he was going to afford to give out free food. But he had faith. 

“The first day we gave out free meals, people saw and they offered to help, too. They said, ‘Chef, here are five cases of chicken, 50 pounds of shrimp, two cases of ribs — you don’t have to publicize it’ — that’s how it’s done. You have to have faith,” Sejour told VOA Creole.

What has been the reaction among the lucky recipients? Gratitude. 

“God bless you brother, no other restaurant in airport is doing what u are doing, all the money we spend in those restaurants and not one has offered to help tsa during a time like this, much respect to you brother we appreciate you, God bless,” @im_so_handsome commented on Chef Creole’s Instagram page. 

“We are humbled by your generosity. You deserve every blessing you receive and then some,” commented @stevieb305. 

The gratitude was echoed by members of the Haitian community who reacted to a post about Chef Creole’s efforts on VOA Kreyol’s Instagram page. 

“Good job. Kindness going around,” @farahfaroul commented. 

“Keep up the good work you’re doing, you’ll be rewarded, God is with you,” @maranata_christ_revien commented in Creole.

On Thursday, Haitian recording label Abstract Records gave Sejour a check for $500 to help pay for his efforts. 

“That will help me buy more supplies, because I promised I would feed them for a week,” Sejour said. 

Asked what motivates him, Sejour said he was inspired by the spirit of Haiti’s independence. 

“Remember, we are Haitians — and when we were the first to win our independence, all of South America came to us for help, so it’s in our blood to help our neighbors — not just our brothers and sisters.” 

Sejour added that he finds pleasure in feeding people. 

“What makes me happy is when you look in the person’s eyes — it’s just a plate of food — but it makes them happy,” he said.

Click here for related VOA Creole video.