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10 Dead as Ships Catch Fire Off Crimea 

At least 10 people are dead after two Tanzanian-flagged ships caught fire Monday in the Kerch Strait off the coast of Russian-annexed Crimea. 

Russian authorities said at least 12 people were rescued, but the rest are missing. 

The ships, the Kandy and the Maestro, had crews that were nationals from India and Turkey. Together, the two ships carried 31 crew members. 

Russia’s transport ministry said a rescue operation was under way to find sailors who jumped overboard to escape the blaze, which ignited when fuel was being transferred from one ship to another.

Ships in ‘neutral water’

The crew members were sailing in “neutral waters” in the Black Sea when the incident occurred, authorities said.

The Kerch Strait is a point of high tension between Russia and Ukraine. 

In November, Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy ships in the strait as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea. Russia continues to hold 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in the incident. They are accused of illegally crossing into Russian territory.

Ukraine has denied the accusation.

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Greek Parliament Begins Debate on Deal with Macedonia

Greece’s parliament began to debate Monday a deal that would normalize Greek relations with Macedonia, a day after violent protests against the accord broke out in Athens.

Parliamentary officials have tentatively scheduled a vote for Thursday on the deal, which calls for Macedonia to change its name and for Greece to drop its objections to the Balkan country joining NATO and the European Union.

The deal was debated Monday in the Greek parliament’s committee on defense and foreign policy, while the house’s plenary session will take up debate Wednesday.

Greeks have been divided over the accord, in which Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Greece has long protested the name Macedonia, adopted by its northern neighbor after it split from Yugoslavia. Some Greeks say the new name still represents an attempt to appropriate Greek identity and cultural heritage, because Macedonia is also the name of Greece’s northern province made famous by Alexander the Great’s conquests.

Protests in Athens against the agreement turned violent Sunday, with demonstrators throwing rocks, firebombs and other items at police, who responded with numerous volleys of tear gas. At least 25 officers and dozens of people were injured in the clashes, officials said.

A nationwide poll in Greece this month found that 70 percent of respondents oppose the deal, AP reported.

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.

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

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. EU countries have also strongly backed the deal.

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Russia: 2 Ships Catch Fire in Black Sea, 10 Sailors Dead

Two Tanzanian-flagged commercial vessels caught fire in the Black Sea, leaving at least 10 sailors dead, Russian officials said Monday. Seven sailors were missing.

The Federal Agency for the Sea and River Transport said the fire erupted while fuel was being pumped from one tanker to another. The blaze also spread from one ship to the other, prompting the crews to jump overboard, according to Russian news agencies.

The news agencies quoted the federal maritime agency as saying the two vessels had 31 crew members combined who are citizens of Turkey and India.

Salvage teams have rescued 14 crew members and recovered 10 bodies, the maritime agency said, adding that a search for the seven missing sailors is underway.

The Russian navy has joined the rescue operation, deploying two of its ships.

The fire erupted while the two vessels, the Maestro and the Candy, were anchored near the Kerch Strait linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

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Erdogan: Turkey Ready to Take Over Security in Syria’s Manbij

Turkey is ready to take over security in the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Manbij, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday.

Erdogan’s office says the president spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone Sunday, days after an Islamic State attack in the city killed 19 people, including three U.S. service members and an American military contractor.

Erdogan told Trump the attack was a “provocation” aimed at affecting his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria.

The White House did not specifically mention Erdogan’s comments about Manbij other than saying the two presidents “agreed to continue to pursue a negotiated solution for northeast Syria that achieves our respective security concerns.”

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and its Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), control Manbij.

Turkey says the YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting a long separatist war for more Kurdish autonomy inside Turkey.

Turkey considers both the YPG and PKK terrorist groups. The Kurdish militia fears Turkey will carry out a military assault on it as soon as the U.S. pulls out.

Trump has proposed a safe zone in the region but has yet to provide any details.

Turkey does not want any Kurdish-controlled territory on its border and has said any safe zone must be cleared of Kurds.

White House bureau chief Steve Herman contributed to this report.

 

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Pope Rolls Out Prayer App for Youth

As the pope prepares to meet tens of thousands of young people from across the globe for World Youth Day this week, he attempted to connect with them on a platform they would easily understand: the internet.

During the weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican Sunday, Pope Francis launched his own user profile on Click to Pray, the official app of the Vatican’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

“Internet and the social networks are a resource of our time, a way to stay in touch with others, to share values and projects, and to express the desire to form a community,” the pope told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

With the help of an aide holding a tablet, the pope swiped the screen saying, “Here, I will put in … requests for prayers for the Church’s mission.”

For example, he said, the app will let young people join him in prayer for the “two sorrows” in his heart this week: the 170 migrants who drowned in recent days in the Mediterranean Sea and the victims of a terrorist attack in Colombia this week that killed 21 people.

“I especially invite young people to download the Click To Pray app, continuing to pray with me the Rosary for peace, especially during the World Youth Day in Panama,” the pontiff said.

He also asked all Catholics to pray for the youth event, which takes place Jan. 22-27.

World Youth Day was started by Pope John Paul II in 1985. It is held in different cities around the world every two to three years. This will be Francis’ third World Youth Day.

 

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Pope Rolls Out Prayer App for Youth

Pope Francis introduced a digital application that enables the faithful to pray with him, swiping a tablet on Sunday, January 20, to showcase the “click to pray” app ahead of the World Youth Day 2019, which takes place in Panama January 22-27. The Vatican has launched the new multiplatform service on its website clicktopray.org that it says will enable the faithful to “accompany the pope in a mission of compassion for the world.” VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Car Bomb Blast in Northern Ireland; No Injuries Reported

Northern Ireland police and politicians have condemned a “reckless” car bombing outside a courthouse in the city of Londonderry.

The device was placed inside a hijacked delivery vehicle and exploded Saturday night as police, who had received a warning, were evacuating the area. There were no reports of injuries.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland posted a photograph of a vehicle in flames and urged the public to stay away.

Police and army bomb-disposal experts remained at the scene on Sunday.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton called the attack “incredibly reckless.”

“The people responsible for this attack have shown no regard for the community or local businesses,” he said. “They care little about the damage to the area and the disruption they have caused.”

More than 3,700 people died during decades of violence before Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. Most militants have renounced violence, but some Irish Republican Army dissidents carry out occasional bombings and shootings.

Uncertainty about the future of the Irish border after Brexit is adding to tensions in Northern Ireland.

John Boyle, who is mayor of the city also known as Derry, said violence “is the past and it has to stay in the past.”

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Car Bomb Blast in Northern Ireland; No Injuries Reported

Northern Ireland police and politicians have condemned a “reckless” car bombing outside a courthouse in the city of Londonderry.

The device was placed inside a hijacked delivery vehicle and exploded Saturday night as police, who had received a warning, were evacuating the area. There were no reports of injuries.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland posted a photograph of a vehicle in flames and urged the public to stay away.

Police and army bomb-disposal experts remained at the scene on Sunday.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton called the attack “incredibly reckless.”

“The people responsible for this attack have shown no regard for the community or local businesses,” he said. “They care little about the damage to the area and the disruption they have caused.”

More than 3,700 people died during decades of violence before Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. Most militants have renounced violence, but some Irish Republican Army dissidents carry out occasional bombings and shootings.

Uncertainty about the future of the Irish border after Brexit is adding to tensions in Northern Ireland.

John Boyle, who is mayor of the city also known as Derry, said violence “is the past and it has to stay in the past.”

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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.” 

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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.”