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Volcano in eastern Congo erupts, triggering panic in Goma

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GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted on Saturday, sending panicked residents of the nearby city of Goma fleeing, although a volcanologist said the city did not appear to be in danger.

People grabbed mattresses and other belongings and fled towards the frontier with neighbouring Rwanda as a red glow filled the sky above the city. Power was out across much of the city and phone lines were busy, Reuters reporters said.

Dario Tedesco, a volcanologist based in the lakeside city of around 2 million, told Reuters that Goma did not appear to be at risk, and lava appeared to be flowing east in the direction of the Rwandan border. Tedesco earlier had said he thought lava might hit Goma.

A United Nations source said a reconnaissance flight by a U.N. helicopter appeared to show lava was not flowing towards Goma or any major population centres.

Nyiragongo last erupted in 2002, killing 250 people and making 120,000 people homeless after lava flowed into Goma.

“I ask the population to remain calm and follow the instructions of the provincial coordinator of civil protection and the instructions of the police and armed forces,” North Kivu province’s military governor, Constant Ndima, told reporters.

Congo’s government spokesman, Patrick Muyaya, tweeted photos of an emergency meeting in Kinshasa, the capital, led by the prime minister and said authorities were closely monitoring the situation.

INSO, which coordinates safety for non-governmental organisations, said in a note that the lava had cut off a main road that runs north from Goma.

Volcano watchers have been worried that the volcanic activity observed in the last five years at Nyiragongo mirrors that in the years preceding eruptions in 1977 and 2002.

Volcanologists at the Goma Volcano Observatory, which monitors Nyiragongo, have struggled to make basic checks on a regular basis since the World Bank cut funding amid embezzlement allegations.

In a bulletin on May 10, the observatory said there had been increased seismic activity at Nyiragongo earlier in the month.

(Reporting by Djafar Al Katanty in Goma and Hereward Holland in Kinshasa; Additional reporting by Olivia Acland in Goma and Fiston Mahamba in Gisenyi, Rwanda;Writing by Aaron RossEditing by Peter Graff and Leslie Adler)

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EU, U.S. agree to talk on carbon border tariff

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The United States and European Union agreed on Tuesday to hold talks on the bloc’s planned carbon border tariff, possibly at the World Trade Organisation, EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.

U.S. President Joe Biden met European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday for a summit tackling issues from trade to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leaders also discussed climate change policy, including the EU’s plan to impose carbon emissions costs on imports of goods, including steel and cement, which the Commission will propose next month.

“I explained the logic of our carbon border adjustment mechanism,” von der Leyen told a news conference after the summit.

“We discussed that we will exchange on it. And that WTO might facilitate this,” she said.

Brussels and Washington are keen to revitalise transatlantic cooperation on climate change, after four fractious years under former president Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, they outlined plans for a transatlantic alliance to develop green technologies and said they will coordinate diplomatic efforts to convince other big emitters to cut CO2 faster.

But the EU border levy could still cause friction. A draft of the proposal said it would apply to some U.S. goods sold into the EU, including steel, aluminium and fertilisers.

Brussels says the policy is needed to put EU firms on an equal footing with competitors in countries with weaker climate policies, and that countries with sufficiently ambitious emissions-cutting policies could be exempted from the fee.

The United States and EU are the world’s second- and third- biggest emitters of CO2, respectively, after China.

A draft of the EU-U.S. summit statement, seen by Reuters, repeated commitments the leaders made at the G7 summit at the weekend to “scale up efforts” to meet an overdue spending pledge of $100 billion a year by rich countries to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with global warming.

It did not include firm promises of cash. Canada and Germany both pledged billions in new climate finance on Sunday, and campaigners had called on Brussels and Washington to do the same.

The draft statement also stopped short of setting a date for the United States and EU to stop burning coal, the most polluting fossil fuel and the single biggest of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brussels and Washington said they will largely eliminate their CO2 emissions from electricity production by the 2030s.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Andrew Heavens and Barbara Lewis)

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U.S. fine Air Canada $25.5 milliom over delayed refunds

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The U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday it was seeking a $25.5 million fine from Air Canada over the carrier’s failure to provide timely refunds requested by thousands of customers for flights to or from the United States.

The department said it filed a formal complaint with a U.S. administrative law judge over flights Air Canada canceled or significantly changed. The penalty is “intended to deter Air Canada and other carriers from committing similar violations in the future,” the department said, adding Air Canada continued its no-refund policy in violation of U.S. law for more than a year.

Air Canada said it believes the U.S. government’s position “has no merit.” It said it “will vigorously challenge the proceedings.”

Air Canada obtained a financial aid package this spring that gave the carrier access to up to C$5.9 billion ($4.84 billion) in funds through a loan program.

The carrier said it has been refunding nonrefundable tickets as part of the Canadian government’s financial package. Since April 13 eligible customers have been able to obtain refunds for previously issued nonrefundable tickets, it said.

The Transportation Department disclosed it is also “actively investigating the refund practices of other U.S. and foreign carriers flying to and from the United States” and said it will take “enforcement action” as appropriate.

The administration said the Air Canada penalty sought was over “extreme delays in providing the required refunds.”

Refund requests spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, the Transportation Department has received over 6,000 complaints against Air Canada from consumers who said they were denied refunds for flights canceled or significantly changed. The department said the airline committed a minimum of 5,110 violations and passengers waited anywhere from five to 13 months to receive refunds.

Last month, a trade group told U.S. lawmakers that 11 U.S. airlines issued $12.84 billion in cash refunds to customers in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic upended the travel industry.

In May, Democratic Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal called on carriers to issue cash refunds whether flights were canceled by the airline or traveler.

($1 = 1.2195 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonAdditional reporting by Allison Lampert in MontrealEditing by Matthew Lewis)

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Egypt upholds death sentence for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures

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Egypt’s highest civilian court on Monday upheld death sentences for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters, judicial sources said.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, means the 12 men could face execution pending approval by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They include Abdul Rahman Al-Bar, commonly described as the group’s mufti or top religious scholar, Mohamed El-Beltagi, a former member of parliament, and Osama Yassin, a former minister.

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have been sentenced to death in other cases related to the unrest that followed the military’s ousting of Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, but the Court of Cassation ordered retrials.

Rights groups have documented a sharp rise in the number of executions in Egypt, with at least 51 carried out so far this year according to Amnesty International.

“Instead of continuing to escalate their use of the death penalty by upholding death sentences following convictions in grossly unfair mass trials Egyptian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Monday’s ruling relates to a mass trial of hundreds of suspects accused of murder and incitement of violence during pro-Brotherhood protests at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo in the weeks after Mursi’s overthrow.

In September 2018, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced 75 people to death and issued varying jail terms for more than 600 others. Many defendants were tried in absentia.

Forty-four of those sentenced to death appealed to the Court of Cassation. Thirty-one had their sentences changed to life in prison, while death sentences were upheld for 12 others.

A final defendant, the senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian, died in prison in Cairo in August 2020. Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died in prison in 2019.

The court also upheld jail terms for many other defendants including a life sentence for Mohamed Badie, leader of the outlawed Brotherhood, and a 10-year jail term for Mursi’s son Osama, the judicial sources said.

 

(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; writing by Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean and Grant McCool)

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