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US cancels plans to allow Arctic oil drilling

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Washington: The US government has cancelled plans to allow oil drilling along the Arctic coasts of Alaska for the next two years, the interior department announced.

The decision signifies the elimination of offshore lease sales for oil drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and comes less than a month after the Shell oil company decided to suspend its exploration for crude and natural gas on the Alaska coast, EFE reported on Saturday.

On September 28, the Anglo-Dutch oil company announced the suspension of its plans in Alaska due to some “disappointing” results from an important oil well in the sea off Chukotka, that unfortunately coincided with a time when the price of crude was at its lowest in recent years.

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future,” the oil company said at the time. “This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”

“In light of Shell’s announcement, the amount of acreage already under lease and current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half,” interior secretary Sally Jewell said.

The Barack Obama administration also decided to refuse the requests of Shell and Norway’s Statoil to move to a later date the lease contracts in the Arctic they obtained from the government of George W. Bush.

The two offshore lease sales that the US had planned for the next two years were the one in 2016 for drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea and the other in 2017 for the Beaufort Sea.

Despite the hold on bidding during the next two years, the interior department still has plans for possible lease sales for drilling rights in the Arctic for the years 2020 and 2022.

The final decision in those two cases will be up to the US president elected in 2016.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have opposed all plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, warning that such operations could harm polar bears and seals.

(IANS)

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Sudanese Refugee Freed by Congressman of US, Finds New Life in US with Family

Abduraheem says his work was spreading the gospel; the Sudanese government accused him of espionage, and he was detained along with two other pastors in December 2015.

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Pastor Hassan AbduraheeN
Pastor Hassan Abduraheem, second from left, is shown in prison of refugees in Sudan. VOA.

Six weeks after arriving in the United States, Hassan Abduraheem takes a seat in the back pew of Tar Wallet Baptist Church. Tucked into the woods along a country road in rural Virginia, the church holds about 50 worshippers.

On this cold November Sunday, Abduraheem and his family of eight noticeably increase the congregation’s size. They do their best to follow the unfamiliar English of the old Baptist hymns, which are very familiar to their new neighbors. And they share the hymns from their former home — Sudan.

Standing in a single line in front of the altar, the family fills the church with Arabic song.

“Unbelievable,” Abduraheem says repeatedly, as he describes his journey from a crowded prison cell in Sudan to a fixed-up house on the farm of his new pastor. “Unbelievable” seems like the only word that could describe the turn his life took, thanks to a Facebook post and a U.S. congressman.

Abduraheem’s work as a former pastor is not outlawed in his native Sudan, but Christians are a minority in a diverse country that has suffered through multiple civil wars. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, there has been “an escalation in the Sudanese government’s persecution of Christians,” since the 2011 secession of South Sudan.

Abduraheem says his work was spreading the gospel; the Sudanese government accused him of espionage, and he was detained along with two other pastors in December 2015.

“The first day when they took us to the prison, they beat us,” he says softly.

Abduraheem was shifted from prison to prison. For five months, he wore the same clothes he was wearing when he was arrested. His eyes became damaged from the harsh prison light. Yet, despite constant interrogations, just two meals of beans a day and a tiny cell with barely enough room to sleep, he says the worst part of prison was not knowing.

“It was a very hard time for me, thinking of my family, because I [didn’t] know anything about them,” he told VOA in his first media interview in the United States.

But even after numerous delays to his trial and an eventual 12-year prison sentence, he couldn’t shake a sense of faith.

“No one told me, but I had the peace that something [was] going [on] outside,” Abduraheem says.

An enormous effort

Far away from Sudan, a Facebook post telling Abduraheem’s story reached just the right person.

“I didn’t know any better, so I got in my car and drove to the Sudanese Embassy and asked to speak with the ambassador,” Representative Tom Garrett, a Republican in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, told VOA. Garrett first saw the story on the Facebook page for Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian organization whose African regional director was imprisoned with Abduraheem.

It was the first time a member of Congress had spoken to the Sudanese government in 10 years, according to Garrett’s office.

After thousands of messages, hundreds of work hours and a trip to Sudan, Garrett collaborated with nongovernmental organizations to free Abduraheem in May 2017. The congressman also worked to secure humanitarian parole status to bring the pastor and his family to the United States.

“I commend the Sudanese government to the extent they were willing to acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the past, and there’s a need to reassess how religious minorities are treated. That’s progress,” says Garrett, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

It’s also an opportunity to advance the relationship between the United States and Sudan, he adds.

“As a result of sanctions dating back to the nineties, Sudan is eager to distance itself from a dark past,” he said in a statement.

Sudanese Refugees
Congressman Thomas Garrett, from left, meets with Pastor Hassan Abduraheem, another Sudanese pastor, Robert Johansen, Adburaheem’s new pastor at Tar Wallet Baptist Church. VOA.

Building a new life

Abduraheem and his family visited the congressman in Washington, D.C., last month to see where their life in the U.S. became possible. While it was their first time in the American city, it also was a new experience for their congressman.

“You can love a bill, you can believe in a bill, you can advocate on behalf of a bill, but you can’t say a prayer with a bill, have dinner with a bill, shake hands with a bill. It was sort of surreal,” Garrett says of meeting Abduraheem at the airport.

Five churches in Garrett’s district banded together to fix up a home for the family, launching a GoFundMe page to pay for food, clothing and other expenses while the family waits for work authorizations. In the meantime, family members have been adjusting to the incredible change of leaving Sudan to build a life in America.

For them, everything is new — from discovering constant running hot water to buying winter coats for the snow they will soon see for the first time. But those immense changes are grounded by Abduraheem’s certainty.

“Even though it is hard for us to leave our country, I think it is also better,” Abduraheem says of his family. “I don’t want them to grow there and go through a lot of difficulties like I went through it. Here, I know they can have a chance.” (VOA)

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Rohingya Ethnic Group in Myanmar are Targets of Ethnic Cleansing, depicts US Government

The US government stated that abuses directed at the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar amount to ethnic cleansing

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Rohingyas
Rohingyas are targets of ethnic cleansing. Wikimedia.

Washington, Nov 23: The US government said on Wednesday that abuses directed at the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar amount to ethnic cleansing.

“After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement, Efe news agency reported.

Despite expressing concern about the plight of the Rohingya, Washington has declined until now to ascribe their suffering to a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The statement follows a visit last week to Myanmar by Tillerson, who met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

The country’s “government and security forces must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders, and hold accountable those who fail to do so,” the secretary said Wednesday.

“The United States continues to support a credible, independent investigation to further determine all facts on the ground to aid in these processes of accountability,” he said.

More than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since Myanmar launched a military operation against the mainly Muslim minority group following the deaths of a dozen members of the security forces in Aug. 25 attacks by a group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

State Department officials said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters that President Donald Trump’s administration is weighing the idea of imposing sanctions on specific individuals in Myanmar found responsible for what they described as “organised and planned” ethnic cleansing.

Senior officials of Myanmar and Bangladesh began talks Wednesday on a plan to repatriate the roughly 622,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi territory.

In a report presented Tuesday in Bangkok, Amnesty International accused Myanmar of subjecting the Rohingya to a system of “institutional” discrimination tantamount to apartheid. (IANS)

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Donald Trump Planning to meet Putin during his Asia tour

Donald Trump's first trip to Asia is the longest international tour.

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US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump. wikimedia commns
  • US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during his Asia tour.

“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah. We want Putin’s help on North Korea, and we’ll be meeting with a lot of different leaders,” Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One before landing at the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Efe reported.

Putin is scheduled to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, which Trump will also attend as part of his long Asia tour.

The North Korean nuclear threat is expected to dominate Donald Trump’s meetings in Japan and the next two stages of his tour, South Korea and China, where he will have a highly anticipated sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The remainder of the tour will be more focused on economic issues, with Trump scheduled to take part in the APEC meeting in Da Nang and then in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines.

Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia is the longest international tour by a US head of state since the one then-President George H.W. Bush embarked on in 1992.

Bush became ill at the end of that trip, famously vomiting on the Japanese prime minister’s lap at a formal dinner before fainting.(IANS)