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Fuel tank explosion in Lebanon capital kills four

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Officials say the blast happened in a Beirut warehouse containing a diesel tank, but its cause is still unknown.

A diesel tank exploded inside a building in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, on Friday night, killing four people and injuring several others, the Lebanese Red Cross has said.

The local Al-Jadeed network on Saturday reported that more than 30 people were injured in the blast as it broadcast images of flames in a street and sounds of people screaming in panic.

Lebanese Red Cross head Georges Kettaneh said the injured were transported to hospital, the national news agency ANI reported.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the blast in the western neighbourhood of Tariq Jadidah. The state-run National News Agency said the fire is likely to have erupted inside a bakery in the basement of the building, which may have caused the tank to explode.

“We were cleaning the street then suddenly a very strong explosion shook the place and everything starting falling down,” said Ali Ghannam, a witness.

“A diesel or gasoline tank was blown in the air then fell down, causing fire and electricity cables to be cut, and people ran away,” he added.

Fire brigade officer Ali Najm said the cause of the explosion was not yet known. Firefighters put out the blaze and helped residents stuck in their apartments to climb down ladders.

Rescuers carry a child evacuated from a building after a fuel tank exploded in Beirut [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Lebanese troops were also deployed to the area and were seen pushing back the onlookers.

‘Feared such an accident’

In the last few weeks, Beirut municipality has been looking for warehouses that could be in breach of the law or pose a danger to residential areas, Governor Marwan Aboud told Al-Jadeed.

“We feared such an accident could happen,” Aboud said, adding that nearly 100 vulnerable sites had been identified. “We have ordered some of them to close and required others to put in place procedures to protect the public.”

Private generator services proliferate across the country, sometimes accused of being veritable mafia profiting from electricity shortages, which have forced citizens for decades to resort to subscriptions to cope with frequent power outages.

The explosion came two months after a massive blast at Beirut’s port killed nearly 200 people, injured about 6,500 others and caused damage worth billions of dollars.

Nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilisers, exploded at the port on August 4. The material had been stored at the facility for six years.

It is still not known what ignited the nitrate but more than two dozen people, many of them port and customs officials, have been arrested since.

Friday also witnessed wildfires in both north and south of the country, concentrated mainly in the Chouf and Metn regions. Last year, wildfires raged in the south’s forests due to unusually high temperatures in what was described as the worst in decades.

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Trump casts vote ahead of campaign blitz in battleground states

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Donald Trump will hold rallies in three key swing states on Saturday, while Joe Biden is campaigning in Pennsylvania.

Donald Trump has joined more than 56 million people across the United States to cast their ballots early, as the US president voted on Saturday morning in Florida before beginning a day of rallies in key battleground states.

The president’s campaign blitz 10 days before November 3, reminiscent of his state-hopping in the final stretch of the 2016 election, comes just a day after the United States recorded a new single-day record of COVID-19 infections.

The president wore a mask when he voted, but took it off when speaking to reporters. Several hundred supporters gathered with flags and signs outside the library where he voted, chanting: “Four more years.”

“It was a very secure vote, much more secure than when you send in a ballot,” Trump told reporters after voting in West Palm Beach, repeating unfounded allegations that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud.

“I voted for a guy named Trump,” he added.

Lagging in national polls and with what analysts consider a narrow path to victory in the Electoral College, Trump has been trying to recreate the enthusiasm he harnessed in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

On Saturday, he will first hold a rally in North Carolina, before travelling to Ohio and Wisconsin, all states considered important for victory, but where COVID-19 cases have spiked and in-person rallies may be a political liability.

Biden in Pennsylvania

Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, who has made his cautious approach to campaigning during the pandemic central to his messaging, will hold two events on Saturday, both socially distanced “drive-in rallies”.

The first event will be in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, and the second will be in Luzerne County, near Biden’s birthplace of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and an area once considered a Democratic stronghold that Trump won in 2016.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, faced off in the final presidential debate on Thursday [File: Jim Bourg/AP]

Polls show Biden narrowly leading Trump in the state, which is considered crucial to both candidates.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier this week showed Biden with a 4-percentage-point advantage on Trump in the state, down from seven points the week before.

Biden cast his ballot weeks ago in Delaware.

On Thursday, 12 days before the election, early voting surpassed the total number of early votes cast in 2016.

As of Saturday, the number of people who had cast their ballots early – either by mail or in-person – was more than 40 percent of all the votes cast in 2016.

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Children killed in attack on Cameroonian school

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Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.

Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials.

The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“They attacked around noon. They found the children in a class and they opened fire on them,” Kumba sub-prefect Ali Anougou told the Reuters news agency.

At least nine other students were wounded and sent to the hospital. There were fears the death toll could rise.

The Associated Press news agency quoted Anougou as blaming separatists who have been fighting the military in parts of western Cameroon for the attack.

Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions – the Northwest and Southwest Regions – are home to a large minority of English speakers in a country where French speakers are the overwhelming majority – a situation that is the legacy of the decolonisation of western Africa by France and Britain more than 60 years ago.

In late 2016, long-standing complaints of political and economic discrimination against English speakers by the central government spilled over when lawyers, students and teachers began calling for reforms.

The government’s lethal response to the protests provoked rebels to declare in 2017 independence for a region they call “Ambazonia”, triggering a stronger crackdown by the authorities.

Both sides have since been accused of committing atrocities in a conflict that has killed some 3,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s government.

Last year, officials blamed separatists for kidnapping dozens of schoolchildren, charges the separatists denied.

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Deadly suicide bombing hits Kabul educational centre

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At least 18 people killed and 57 wounded in blast at educational centre in an area home to many from the Shia community.

At least 18 people were killed and dozens were wounded in a suicide bombing at an educational centre in Kabul, Afghanistan’s interior ministry said.

The explosion struck outside the Kawsar-e Danish educational centre in the Pul-e-Khoshk area of Dasht-e-Barchi in west Kabul.

The interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said the attacker was trying to enter the centre when he was stopped by security guards and detonated his explosives.

Arian said the attack had left at least 18 people dead and 57 wounded.

The attack happened in an area that is home to many from the minority Shia community. The ISIL (ISIS) armed group has launched several attacks in Afghanistan on the Shia community, whom it views as apostates.

In the same area of Kabul, dozens of students died in an attack on another educational centre in 2018, and in May, gunmen attacked a maternity ward, killing 24 people, including mothers and babies.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the latest attack, which came at a sensitive time as representatives of the armed group and government meet in Qatar to seek a peace deal – even as violence has risen recently and the United States intends to withdraw its remaining troops from the country.

Surge in violence

The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path towards withdrawing American troops from the conflict.

US officials said the deal would also help refocus security efforts on fighting ISIL, which is a rival of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There has been a surge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country recently, even as representatives from the two warring sides have begun peace talks in Doha to end the decades-long war in Afghanistan.

Earlier on Saturday, a roadside bomb killed nine people in eastern Afghanistan after it struck a minivan full of civilians, a local official said.

Ghazni province police spokesman Ahmad Khan Sirat said a second roadside bomb had killed two policemen after it struck their vehicle which was making its way to the victims of the first explosion.

Sirat added the bombings had wounded several others, and the attacks were under investigation.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. The provincial police spokesman claimed the Taliban had placed the bomb.

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