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Potential suspect critical after Japan clinic fire kills 24

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A man seen by police as a potential suspect in a deadly fire at a Japanese mental health clinic was in a critical condition on Saturday, reports said, a day after the blaze claimed 24 lives.

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The 61-year-old former patient of the clinic in Osaka was being treated in hospital, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing police sources.

The fire raged for half an hour on Friday morning, gutting the fourth floor of the narrow commercial building where the clinic, which also provided general medical care, was located.

Police were investigating a link with a small fire that had occurred at the man’s home 30 minutes earlier, NHK and the Asahi Shimbun daily said.

An official at the city’s fire department confirmed the death toll of the clinic fire, which police are reportedly treating as possible arson.

“A total of 24 people died and four were injured. Whether their condition is critical or not is unclear,” the official told AFP.

Japanese media said most of the victims were believed to have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, and may have been trapped inside the unit with the exit blocked.

Some patients saw a man placing a paper bag containing a flammable liquid next to a heater, which he then kicked over to ignite, the reports said.

The father of the doctor who runs the clinic said he did not yet know if his son was among the dead.

“I hope (my son) is safe and alive. That’s all I want,” he said in comments reported by several major newspapers.

The doctor had been having a hard time with many patients wanting certificates to apply for unemployment insurance, his father added.

Osaka in western Japan is a major economic hub and the country’s second-biggest metropolis after the greater Tokyo region.

Deadly fires are unusual in Japan, which has strict building standards, and violent crime is rare.

One year ago, a man was charged with murder over a 2019 arson attack on a Kyoto animation studio that killed 36 people, the country’s deadliest violent crime in decades.

The attack sent shockwaves through the anime industry and its fans in Japan and around the world.

And in recent months there has been a string of assaults involving fire and knives on and around the country’s train network.

A 24-year-old man was arrested in Tokyo on Halloween for attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed a passenger and started a fire inside a moving train, wearing an outfit reminiscent of infamous comic villain the Joker.

That incident reportedly inspired a 69-year-old man to try to start a fire inside a running Shinkansen bullet train in the southwestern Kyushu region. No injuries were reported.

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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