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4,000 animal and plant species affected by smuggling worldwide

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Vienna, (IANS/DPA) Wildlife trafficking has not substantially reduced over the past two decades, despite positive signs in reducing trafficking of iconic species like elephant and rhino, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in Vienna on Monday.

“The global scope and scale of wildlife crime remain substantial with seizures during 2015–2021 indicating an illegal trade in 162 countries and territories affecting around 4,000 plant and animal species,” the office’s third edition of the World Wildlife Crime Report says.

During the six-year period, around 13 million individual animals and plants had been seized that had been intended for use as food, medication or luxury items. More than 16,000 tons of illicit goods, such as wood, had also been confiscated, it said.

The UNODC stressed that the true figures were considerably higher.

The UN office added that beyond the conservation threat to target species, population reductions could trigger ecosystem-level impacts by disturbing interdependencies and undermining functions and processes, “including those important to climate change resilience and mitigation.”

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It noted that some of the species worse affected, including rare orchids, succulents, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, received little public attention, though wildlife trafficking had played a major role in their local or global extinctions.

“Wildlife crime also threatens the socioeconomic benefits people derive from nature, whether as a source of income, employment, food, medicine or other values. It further corrodes good governance and the rule of law through corruption, money-laundering and illicit financial flows,” the agency said.

–IANS

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UN agency fears 670 dead after Papua New Guinea landslide

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Berlin, May 26 (IANS/DPA) At least 670 people are feared to have been killed by a landslide in Papua New Guinea, an International Organization for Migration (IOM) official said on Sunday.

Serhan Aktoprak, the IOM’s head of mission for the Pacific country, told Australian broadcaster ABC that the scale of the impact was much greater than initially thought.

Several villages in the province of Enga were hit when part of a mountain collapsed in the early hours of Friday in the remote central highlands of Papua New Guinea.

More than 4,000 people live in the affected area, according to reports, although it is unclear how many were present when the landslide occurred.

The United Nations on Sunday confirmed the deaths of five people whose bodies have been recovered. At least 20 women and children have also been injured.

One village in the area, Yambili, disappeared under the landslide, the local newspaper Post Courier reported on Saturday. In the region, at least 150 houses are believed to be buried under 6 to 8 metres of mud.

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The inaccessibility of the region has complicated rescue efforts and hopes of finding survivors are diminishing quickly. The area is characterized by tropical forests and a huge mountain range with rugged valleys, some of which are not accessible by road and can only be reached by air.

The terrain surrounding the disaster zone in Enga province also remains dangerous and unstable, prompting the evacuation of about 1,250 survivors, Aktoprak said.

Aktoprak described the difficulties at the scene, saying people had to “run away from the site because of the increased danger as rocks nonstop keep falling and the land continues to slide.”

Despite the difficulties, rescue efforts are continuing, involving national emergency response teams, police, the army and the UN.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday offered the Papua New Guinea government help with rescue efforts and reconstruction. Australia and the United States have also offered support.

Papua New Guinea, with a population of almost 10 million people, lies just north of Australia.

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Despite being rich in minerals, timber, oil and gas, its history of colonialism, political instability and mismanagement of resources has kept its people impoverished.

–IANS/DPA

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Hamas steps up attack on Israel, fires barrage of missiles; first in past few months

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New Delhi, May 26 (IANS) Palestine-based militant outfit Hamas on Sunday launched a fresh missile attack on Israel, prompting the latter to blare warning sirens across Tel Aviv, the first such incident in the past few months.

Hamas armed wing Al-Qassam brigades launched the ‘big missile attack’ on Israel in protest against ‘Zionist massacre against civilians’, a leading media outlet reported.

The volley of missiles and rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza Strip and marked first such escalation in military conflict in the past four months.

The warning sirens were sounded in other cities apart from Tel Aviv, including Herzliya and Petah Tikva.

There were no reports of casualty but Israel Defence Forces claimed that the barrage of rockets was launched from Rafah toward central Israel, moments ago.

“Humanitarian aid has been going into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing this morning, and now rockets are being fired at central Israel,” it shared on its social media handle.

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Notably, Israel’s military launched a strong offensive on the militant outfit Hamas inside the Palestinian territory after the ghastly October 7 attack.

The terror attack by Hamas terrorists resulted in the death of more than 1,000 people mostly civilians, while hundreds of Israeli civilians including women were taken as hostages.

According to Palestinian administration, more than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza Strip in Israeli strikes, so far.

–IANS

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Germany's far-right AfD keeps second place in polls despite scandals

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Berlin, May 26 (IANS/DPA) Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has maintained its second place in polls ahead of June’s European Parliament elections despite a wave of recent scandals that have threatened to damage the party’s hopes.

An online survey carried out by the INSA polling institute for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper had the AfD at 17 per cent, unchanged from April.

Germany’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance was top at 30 per cent, with the governing Social Democratic Party (SDP) at 14 per cent and its coalition partners The Greens and the Free Democratic Party at 13 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

The AfD has been rocked by controversies in recent weeks, with the party’s lead candidate for the European elections, Maximilian Krah, being banned from making public statements after saying that not all members of the Nazi SS paramilitary force were criminals.

The party’s second candidate in the European elections, Petr Bystron, has also withdrawn from the campaign after his Berlin home was searched by police last week. Bystron is under investigation for money laundering and bribery and has links to pro-Russian networks.

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In addition, German police arrested Krah’s former assistant, Jian Guo, on suspicion of espionage last month. Krah fired him following allegations that the parliamentary aide was spying for China.

While the spate of negative headlines is yet to harm the AfD in German polls, it has had consequences for the party on the European level.

In a blow ahead of the European Parliament elections, the AfD was ejected this week from the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, an alliance of populist right-wing parties in the parliament.

–IANS/DPA

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No jail for those refusing Tory national service plans: UK Home Secretary

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London, May 26 (IANS/DPA) Teenagers would not be sent to jail for refusing to comply with the Tories’ proposed “mandatory” national service, said James Cleverly, the UK Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary said there would be no criminal sanctions for young people if they defied the plans under a Conservative government.

In the first major policy announcement ahead of the General Election, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is a member of the Conservative Party, also known as Tories, pledged to get 18 year olds to either join the military for 12 months or do “volunteer” work one weekend a month for a year.

The Prime Minister said the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose.”

In an apparent pitch to older voters and those who may turn to Reform UK, the Conservatives said volunteering could include helping local fire, police and NHS services, as well as charities, tackling loneliness and supporting elderly people.

Touring broadcast studios on Sunday, Cleverly said the Tories would ensure the scheme “fits with different people’s attitudes and aspirations” after questions arose over whether teenagers would be punished for not taking part.

“There’s going to be no criminal sanction. There’s no one going to jail over this,” he told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme.

“This is about dealing with what we know to be the case, which is social fragmentation.”

“Too many young people live in a bubble within their own communities. They don’t mix with people of different religions, they don’t mix with different viewpoints.”

Opposition critics have dismissed the plans as unserious, with Labour saying the pledge would never come to fruition and amounted to “another unfunded commitment.”

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The Prime Minister is seeking to draw a dividing line with Keir Starmer’s party on global security following his pledge to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030.

Heightening his attack on Saturday, Sunak said voters would be left “at risk” with the Labour leader in Number 10 because Britain’s enemies would notice that he “doesn’t have a plan.”

Teenagers who choose to sign up for placement in the forces would “learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement or civil response operations,” the Tories said.

The Conservatives said they would form a royal commission, bringing expertise from across the military and civil society to establish the details of what they described as the “bold” national service programme.

The party said this commission would be tasked with bringing forward a proposal for how to ensure the first pilot is open for applications in September 2025.

After that, it would seek to introduce a new “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, the party said.

It estimates the programme will cost 2.5 billion pounds a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund 1 billion pounds through plans to “crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion.”

The remaining 1.5 billion pounds will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), a key part of the Levelling Up agenda, which supports local charities and community groups, the Tories said.

The Prime Minister said: “This is a great country, but generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve, and there are forces trying to divide our society in this increasingly uncertain world.”

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“I have a clear plan to address this and secure our future. I will bring in a new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country.”

“This new, mandatory national service will provide life-changing opportunities for our young people, offering them the chance to learn real-world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Prime Minister suggested a government led by Keir would be marked by uncertainty and a “more dangerous world.”

“The consequences of uncertainty are clear. No plan means a more dangerous world. You, your family and our country are all at risk if Labour wins,” he said.

Keir’s party pointed out that Lord David Cameron introduced a similar scheme – the National Citizen Service – when he was the Prime Minister.

Cameron’s announcement had no military component to it, instead encouraging youngsters to take part in activities such as outdoor education-style courses as part of his “Big Society” initiative.

A Labour spokesperson said: “This is not a plan – it’s a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon.”

“Britain has had enough of the Conservatives, who are bankrupt of ideas and have no plans to end 14 years of chaos. It’s time to turn the page and rebuild Britain with Labour.”

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Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson MP Richard Foord said: “If the Conservatives were serious about defence, they would reverse their damaging cuts to our world-class professional armed forces, instead of decimating them, with swingeing cuts to the number of our regular service personnel.”

“Our armed forces were once the envy of the world. This Conservative government has cut troop numbers and is planning more cuts to the size of the Army.”

“This would be far better spent reversing Conservative cuts to troop numbers.”

Sunak’s pledge marks the first major policy announcement from either side ahead of the July 4 General Election that he called in a rain-soaked statement outside Downing Street earlier this week.

The Prime Minister has said he is “pumped up” and enjoying himself on the campaign trail despite a difficult start that saw him encounter several hiccups on a whistlestop two-day tour of the four nations.

His trip included a visit to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, which invited undesirable “sinking ship” comparisons with his party’s fortunes, as well as a brewery in Wales where he made a footballing gaffe about the Euros.

Sunak spent Saturday meeting local veterans in his North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond before joining activists on the doorstep in south-west London.

He is understood to be continuing on the campaign trail in the South East, while Rachel Reeves will give a stump speech to party members in West Yorkshire as she heads out for Labour on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Ed Davey will launch the Liberal Democrats battlebus in a marginal constituency, in the so-called Tory blue wall of southern England.

–IANS/DPA

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Yemen: 113 detainees released with support of ICRC

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Geneva/Sanaa, May 26 (IANS) Yemen’s Houthi group has released 113 detainees in Sana, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Sunday.

The ICRC called the unilateral release as a “positive step” towards reviving negotiations under the Stockholm Agreement.

“We are ready to play our role as a neutral intermediary in facilitating the release, transfer, and repatriation of detainees, as we did in 2020 and 2023, whenever the parties to the Stockholm Agreement agree to engage in such efforts once again,” the committee said in a statement.

In line with its established practice, the ICRC conducted private pre-departure interviews with the detainees to confirm their identity and verify if they wished to travel straight to their home or wished to be transferred to a location of their choosing.

“We held confidential conversations with all detainees to listen to any concerns they may have about the release process, ensure they have been in contact with their families, and gather the necessary information to follow up on their condition if needed,” said Alessia Bertelli, the head of the ICRC’s protection department in Yemen.

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The Yemen Red Crescent Society (YRCS) provided two ambulances for the operation.

–IANS

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