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  • UN envoy urges halt to ‘alarming military escalation’ in Yemen

    The UN special envoy for Yemen has urged a halt to the “alarming military escalation” in fighting between the Saudi-led military coalition and Houthi Shiite rebels. Martin Griffiths warned the UN Security Council at a closed meeting that the recent drastic escalation jeopardizes progress made by the warring parties in de-escalating the conflict, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

    Less than two weeks ago, Griffiths reported to the council on a major reduction in military operations and other initiatives, AP reported. He expressed hope at the time that this would lead to talks between the government and Houthis on ending the five-year conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

    The sudden spike in violence across frontlines threatened to complicate indirect peace talks between Saudi Arabia and the rebels as well as Griffiths’ efforts to get both sides back to the negotiating table.

    In a separate development, the representative for the UN children’s agency UNICEF welcomed the Houthis’ release in Sanaa on Tuesday of 64 children allegedly captured during military operations.

  • Magnitude 6.1 aftershock hits near Cayman Islands – USGS

    A shallow 6.1-magnitude quake struck 53km off the coast of the Cayman Islands at the depth of just 10km. It came shortly after a 7.7 quake off Jamaica triggered a tsunami warning across the Caribbean.

    The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) said that it’s unlikely the aftershock, which was reported at 21:55 GMT on Tuesday, would trigger any tsunami waves, but did not rule out the possibility in its initial statement.

    “Based on all available data… there is no significant tsunami threat from this earthquake. However… there is very a small possibility of tsunami waves along coasts located near the epicenter,” the PTWC said.

    The initial magnitude of 6.5 reported by the US Geological Survey (USGS) was later downgraded to 6.1. The aftershock hit west of the first one, a 7.7 quake, which sent ripples across the region, prompting a tsunami alert for Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and several other countries. The tsunami warning was eventually lifted.

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  • Ex-Catalonia leader Puigdemont appeals for help to repay €4mn spent on banned referendum

    The former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, asked supporters on Tuesday to donate money after Spanish authorities ordered him and 19 others to pay back €4.1 million of public money spent on a banned independence referendum.

    On October 1, 2017, the northeastern region organized a secession vote, which was declared illegal by Spanish courts. Its leaders then made a short-lived declaration of independence. Puigdemont later fled to Belgium, while other leaders were jailed. “If you voted on October 1, we need you,” Puigdemont tweeted, adding a link to a bank account.

    Puigdemont, who is now a member of the European Parliament, said Spain’s top public auditors’ office had given him and other politicians 15 days to refund the money before their assets could be seized, Reuters reports. The auditors’ office has not immediately confirmed the information.

    Earlier on Tuesday, six jailed pro-independence leaders were briefly released from prison under heavy police protection to testify in the Catalan parliament. Spain’s PM Pedro Sanchez is due in Barcelona on February 6 to set the agenda for the talks with the regional government.

  • Italy allows ‘Ocean Viking’ boat carrying over 400 migrants to dock after days stranded at sea

    A charity ship carrying hundreds of people rescued in the Mediterranean said on Tuesday it had received permission to dock in Italy. Germany and France will take in some of the 403 migrants aboard the ‘Ocean Viking’ ship, run by the French NGO SOS Mediterranee, with Ireland and Luxembourg also expected to offer help, Reuters reported, citing an Italian Interior Ministry source.

    SOS Mediterranee said it had been told to take those rescued, including 38 women and 149 minors, to Taranto in the heel of Italy. Two more rescue ships carrying some 230 people were also waiting to be assigned a safe port either in Italy or Malta.

    Matteo Salvini, the head of the League party, condemned the decision to let the ‘Ocean Viking’ come to Italy. “The number of [migrant] arrivals has risen 500 percent in January 2020,” he tweeted.

    The Interior Ministry says some 870 boat migrants have come to Italy this month, after 155 in the same period last year. This does not include those on the ‘Ocean Viking’.

  • Morales’s ally Arce returns to Bolivia to run for president in May election

    Luis Arce, the presidential candidate for Evo Morales’s Movement for Socialism party, returned to Bolivia on Tuesday following self-imposed exile in Mexico, AFP reported. Arce, a former economy minister, is due to stand for Movement to Socialism (MAS) in the May 3 election aiming to extend the socialist party’s hold on the presidency for a fourth term.

    Morales was in power for almost 14 years before resigning on November 10 following three weeks of, at times, violent protests against his reelection in an October poll.

    After resigning, Morales fled into exile in Mexico before settling in neighboring Argentina a month later. He is barred from standing in the May election and the interim government accuses him of sedition.

    Interim president Jeanine Anez announced her candidacy on Sunday despite having previously insisted her role was only to lead the country into elections.

  • Europe’s asylum agency expands operations in Greece

    The EU agency for refugees, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) said on Tuesday it will double its staff to 1,000 in Greece in the coming months. The move will help the country cope with thousands of migrants and refugees stranded on five islands.

    Greece has promised faster processing of asylum requests of more than 70,000 pending from previous years, to shut five overcrowded refugee camps on its islands and replace them with more restrictive holding centers.

    Rights groups have criticized the conservative government over its new framework to speed up the processing of asylum requests as a “rushed” attempt that would impede access to a fair asylum process for refugees, Reuters said.

    Greece, via neighboring Turkey, was the main gateway into the EU for more than a million mainly Middle East and Asian migrants fleeing conflict in 2015-16. Last year, 59,726 migrants and refugees reached Greek shores, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said. Most of them arrived on Lesbos, Chios or Samos island near Turkey’s coasts.