Angry migrants left homeless by a blaze at Europe’s largest refugee center demanded to leave the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday as authorities opened up new tent shelters and European leaders faced growing calls to take in more of the displaced.
More than 12,000 people, most from Africa and Afghanistan, have been sleeping rough since flames swept through the notoriously squalid and overcrowded Moria camp earlier this week. Some residents had COVID-19, raising fears the outbreak could spread.
Under a hot sun on Saturday, hundreds of migrants, many chanting “Freedom” and “No Camp,” gathered as bulldozers cleared ground in preparation for tents to be put up.
Some carried handwritten signs carrying messages including “We don’t want to go to a hell like Moria again” and “Can you hear us Mrs Merkel?” in an appeal to the German chancellor.
“The fire made things much more difficult,” said Sajida Nazari, a 23-year-old student from Afghanistan who has been on Lesbos for over a year. “We don’t have food, we don’t have water, we don’t have freedom.”
Police briefly fired rounds of teargas when some of the protesters attempted to march down a road leading to the island’s main port of Mytilene, which police had blocked while work on the new tent settlement continued nearby.
The fire at the camp, which was holding four times the number of people it was supposed to, has returned the spotlight to the migration crisis facing the European Union, which has struggled to find a response that goes beyond temporary fixes.
German Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Europe to accept more refugees but the difficulty of reaching an accord was underlined by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who ruled out taking more in.
Greek authorities have refused any mass transfer off the island, located a few miles off the Turkish coast, despite growing hostility from residents angry after years at the front line of the crisis.
But officials said they were determined to provide shelter and proper sanitation and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
“As of today, asylum seekers will start coming into the tents, into safe conditions,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told reporters at the site.
The need to bring the situation under control has been made more urgent by the fact that authorities have lost track of 35 camp residents who had tested positive for coronavirus.
Health authorities have promised to conduct rapid tests at the entrance of the new camp, with a quarantine unit ready for anyone testing positive.
Still, the unsanitary conditions being endured by Moria’s former inhabitants in the fields and streets of Lesbos has caused deep alarm.
“This is a health bomb. These people haven’t even had access to water all these days, they cannot even wash their hands,” Matina Pagoni, president of Athens and Piraeus hospital doctors’ union, told Skai television.
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Russians vote Sunday in dozens of local elections that will be scrutinized for signs of discontent with the ruling United Russia party following the suspected poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Navalny, 44, had hoped to undermine United Russia’s grip on regional power and had urged his supporters to vote against it tactically before he fell gravely ill in what Germany and his allies say was an attempt to kill him last month.
United Russia, which backs President Vladimir Putin, dominates regional politics, but the elections come at a time of public frustration over years of falling wages and the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Seen as a dry run for next September’s parliament elections, the regional polls will elect 18 governors and an array of local parliaments and city councils.
Early voting began Friday after authorities stretched the elections over three days, a move criticized by independent election watchdog Golos, which warned the longer period would make it harder for monitors to catch fraud at polling stations.
Navalny’s allies have pressed ahead with the Kremlin critic’s “smart voting” strategy, naming more than 1,000 politicians on the ballots they think can beat ruling party candidates and telling their supporters to vote for them.
The strategy aims to disrupt a political system that often bars the Kremlin’s staunchest foes from running, while allowing softer candidates from the parliamentary parties to compete. Navalny has been unable to set up his own party.
The anti-corruption campaigner also has dozens of allies running in elections for seats in the city councils of Novosibirsk and Tomsk in Siberia.
There have been some signs of anti-Kremlin discontent in the regions.
Mass rallies in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk show no sign of abating two months after they flared over the arrest of a popular local governor who defeated United Russia’s candidate in an election upset in 2018.
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Calmer winds and rising humidity are helping firefighters battle more than 100 wildfires Saturday that continue to rage largely uncontrolled along the U.S. West Coast, and President Donald Trump announced he would visit California on Monday to see the devastation himself.
After days of hot, windy weather, on Saturday the winds calmed and shifted to the west, bringing cooler, more moist weather from the ocean to help firefighters in California, Oregon and Washington state, where entire towns have been incinerated and at least 28 people killed.
The thick smoke that hung in the air brought lower temperatures and higher humidity. It also brought the dirtiest air in 35 years to some cities, triggering health warnings and prompting officials to urge residents to remain indoors.
In Salem, the state capital of Oregon, the air quality index reading was 512 on Saturday morning. The scale tops out at 500. Anything above 200 is considered “very unhealthy,” and anything above 300 is deemed “hazardous.”
In Paradise, California, a city devastated by wildfire in 2018, the reading was 592, according to the PurpleAir monitoring site.
“Above 500 is literally off the charts,” said Laura Gleim, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Thick smoke and haze blanketed much of the region, triggering health warnings and prompting officials to urge residents to remain indoors.
The White House said Trump, a Republican, will meet Monday with local and federal officials in McClellan Park near the California state capital of Sacramento to be briefed on the California wildfires.
The president visited California in November 2018 after that year’s devastating wildfires and took to Twitter to blame California’s forest management and environmental laws.
His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, on Saturday linked the conflagrations to climate change.
“We absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one American families are enduring across the West today,” Biden said.
Twenty-eight active, major fires have burned about 11,000 square kilometers in California, killing at least 19 people since mid-August. More than 16,000 firefighters are working in the state.
In Oregon, at least six people have died, and authorities are concerned that the receding flames could lead to the discovery of more bodies across the blackened terrain in the region. Dozens of people have been reported missing, but the hope is that they are just unable to communicate their whereabouts.
“We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM), on Friday.
More than 40,000 people in Oregon have been evacuated and some 500,000 — more than 10% of its population — remained under some level of evacuation protocol as fires in the state destroyed thousands of homes and burned hundreds of thousands of hectares. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday amended Thursday’s statement by OEM that said a half-million people throughout the state had been ordered to evacuate.
The Oregon Convention Center in Portland has been transformed into a shelter for evacuees. Other evacuation centers were opened across the state, while many evacuees have simply taken refuge in their cars in large parking lots.
In southern Oregon, an apocalyptic scene of burned residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for kilometers along a highway — a scene mirrored in parts of California, where the governor gave a blunt assessment.
“This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening. This is the perfect storm,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.” More than 68,000 people are under evacuation orders in California.
In Oregon’s most populated region, helicopters dropped water and fire retardant on two fires that threatened to merge.
Governor Brown said Friday dozens of people are missing in Jackson and Marion counties.
In California, the largest fire in the state’s history is burning in the Mendocino National Forest, about 190 kilometers northwest of Sacramento.
The amount of land burned in Washington state in just the past five days has made this the state’s second-worst fire season, after 2015.
“This is not an act of God,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday. “This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways.”
This year’s wildfires in California have already burned record areas of land. The year also saw the largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history, along with five of the top 10 largest fires in state history. The fire season is still young in the region, where wildfires have historically intensified in the fall.
In addition to beating back the wildfires, authorities are now challenged with fighting misinformation on social media sites that the fires were ignited by arsonists from far right and far left groups. The FBI said Friday it has investigated some claims and so far has found them to be untrue.
On Friday, however, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department in Oregon announced that 41-year-old Michael Bakkela had been arrested on two counts of arson and other charges in connection with the Almeda fire in southern Oregon. Bakkela has denied starting the blaze.
The sheriff’s department also said a man was found dead near an ignition point of the Almeda fire, which burned hundreds of homes, and that a search was underway for about 50 missing people.
Meanwhile, meteorologists said California’s wildfires are responsible for the orange glow in the sky that people across Britain woke up to Friday.
Meteorologist Simon Lee told The Telegraph: “Meteorologically speaking, in the last few days we have seen a very strong and straight, west-east, jet stream, flowing across the North Atlantic from North America to Europe, which has undoubtedly helped rapidly and coherently transport the aerosols from North America.”
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After one errant forehand in the first set of the U.S. Open final, Naomi Osaka looked at her coach in the mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium stands with palms up, as if to say, “What the heck is happening?”
Surprisingly off-kilter in the early going Saturday, Osaka kept missing shots and digging herself a deficit. But suddenly, she lifted her game, and Victoria Azarenka couldn’t sustain her start. By the end, Osaka had pulled away to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 comeback victory for her second U.S. Open championship and third Grand Slam title overall.
“I just thought this would be very embarrassing, to lose this in less than an hour,” said Osaka, who dropped down to lie on the court after winning.
A quarter-century had passed since the last time the woman who lost the first set of a U.S. Open final wound up winning: In 1994, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did it against Steffi Graf.
“I actually don’t want to play you in more finals,” a smiling Osaka told Azarenka afterward. “I didn’t enjoy that.”
Osaka, a 22-year-old born in Japan and now based in the United States, added to her trophies from the 2018 U.S. Open — earned with a brilliant performance in a memorably chaotic final against Serena Williams — and 2019 Australian Open.
The 23,000-plus seats in the main arena at Flushing Meadows were not entirely unclaimed, just mostly so — while fans were not allowed to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of people who worked at the tournament attended — and the cavernous place was not entirely silent, just mostly so.
Certainly no thunderous applause or cacophony of yells that normally would reverberate over and over and over again through the course of a Grand Slam final, accompanying the players’ introductions or preceding the first point or after the greatest of shots.
Instead, a polite smattering of claps from several hands marked such moments.
Osaka stepped onto the court wearing a black mask with the name of Tamir Rice, a Black 12-year-old boy killed by police in Ohio in 2014. Osaka arrived in New York with seven masks bearing the names of Black victims of violence and wore a different one for each match, honoring Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
“The point is to make people start talking about it,” Osaka said during Saturday’s trophy ceremony.
Focus on racial injustice
She has been at the forefront of efforts in tennis to bring awareness to racial injustice in the United States. She joined athletes in various sports by refusing to compete last month after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin — she said she wouldn’t participate in her semifinal at the Western & Southern Open, then decided to play after the tournament took a full day off in solidarity.
Osaka and her coach have said they think the off-court activism has helped her energy and mindset in matches.
The win over Azarenka, a 31-year-old from Belarus also seeking a third Grand Slam title but first in 7½ years, made Osaka 11-0 since tennis resumed after its hiatus because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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