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Indonesia volcano death toll rises to 13

The death toll from a sudden, spectacular eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Semeru has risen to 13, disaster officials said Sunday, as rescuers searched villages blanketed in molten ash for survivors.

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The eruption of Java’s biggest mountain caught locals by surprise on Saturday, sending thousands fleeing its path of destruction and forcing hundreds of families into makeshift shelters.

It left at least 11 villages of Lumajang district coated in volcanic ash, submerging houses, smothering livestock and leaving at least 900 evacuees seeking cover in mosques, schools and village halls.

Dramatic footage showed Semeru pumping a mushroom of ash into the sky, looming over screaming residents of a nearby village trying to escape.

“The death toll is now 13 people. Rescuers found more bodies,” national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) spokesman Abdul Muhari told AFP.

As many as 10 trapped people were rescued from the surrounding areas in Lumajang, East Java province, Muhari said.

Local broadcaster Kompas TV reported those rescued were local workers at a sand mining site.

At least 57 people were injured in the eruption, of whom 41 suffered burns and were hospitalised, the BNPB said in a press release.

Lava destroyed at least one bridge in Lumajang and prevented rescuers from immediately accessing the area and those trapped in shelters.

But emergency service footage from one village on Sunday showed a desolate scene, with roofs of houses protruding from the coat of mud that had destroyed them.

The rescue teams were using heavy loaders to remove debris, Muhari said.

Locals have been advised to not travel within five kilometres of Semeru’s crater, and the air around it is highly polluted and could affect vulnerable groups, he added.

Officials have sent aid to shelters, including food, tarpaulins, face masks, and body bags.

Australia’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, which provides advice to the aviation industry, said the ash had dissipated around Semeru, according to satellite imagery.

Semeru’s alert status has remained at its second-highest level since its previous major eruption in December 2020, which also forced thousands to flee and left villages covered.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity.

The Southeast Asian archipelago nation has nearly 130 active volcanoes.

In late 2018, a volcano in the strait between Java and Sumatra islands erupted, causing an underwater landslide and tsunami which killed more than 400 people.

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North Korea defends close ties with Russia against South Korean criticism at UN


North Korea on Monday slammed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for criticising its cooperation with Moscow following leader Kim Jong Un’s Russia visit, saying it is “natural” and “normal” for neighbors to keep close relations.

Yoon, speaking at the UN General Assembly last week, said that if Russia helped North Korea enhance its weapons programs in return for assistance for its war in Ukraine, it would be “a direct provocation.”

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In a piece carried by KCNA news agency, the North denounced Yoon for “malignantly” slandering its friendly cooperation with Russia, and said Yoon was serving as a “loudspeaker” for the United States.

“It is quite natural and normal for neighboring countries to keep close relations with each other, and there is no reason to call such practice to account,” it said.

Kim returned home last week from a week-long trip to Russia in which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to boost military and economic cooperation.

US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Russia could be trying to acquire ammunition from the North to supplement its dwindling stocks for the war in Ukraine while Pyongyang seeks technological help for its nuclear and missile programs.

Any activities assisting North Korea’s weapons programs are banned under UN Security Council resolutions.

“The foreign policy of the DPRK … will not be tied to anything, and its friendly and cooperative relations with the close neighbors will continue to grow stronger,” the commentary said. DPRK is the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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Niger military leaders welcome news of French army withdrawal


Niger’s military rulers on Sunday welcomed the announcement that France will pull its troops out of the country by the end of the year as “a new step towards sovereignty.”

The statement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Paris would soon withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by its military contingent in the coming months.

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“This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” said a statement from the country’s military rulers, who seized power in late July by overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.

“The French troops and the ambassador of France will leave Nigerien soil by the end of the year.”

The statement, read out on national television, added: “This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people.”

Earlier Sunday, before Macron’s announcement, the body regulating aviation safety in Africa (ASECNA), announced that Niger’s military rulers had banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace.

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Russian air defense thwarts drone attack near Moscow’s Tula region


Russia’s air defense systems were engaged in repelling a drone attack over the Tula region that borders Moscow’s region to its north, Russia’s RIA news agency reported early Monday.

Citing the ministry of regional security, the agency reported that according to preliminary information, there was no damage or injuries as a result of the attack.

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Two of Moscow’s major airports, however, the Vnukovo and Domedovo, limited air traffic, directing flights to other airports, the TASS state news agency reported.

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