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FILE PHOTO: People stroll past Christmas lights and decorations at the outdoor Christmas market at Humboldt Forum in central Berlin, Germany, on Dec 11, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner) - 



LONDON/MUNICH: Travel within Europe in the busy holiday season is exceeding 2022 levels, despite security warnings from authorities around Europe as consumers remain determined to enjoy holidays, prolonging the post-pandemic travel boom.

Christmas markets and popular tourist sites in cities such as Munich and Paris have been bustling lately, albeit with strong security presences, as holiday travel within the European Union and including Britain was set to climb 22 per cent above 2022 levels, according to travel data firm ForwardKeys.

The spike has been driven by continued post-pandemic demand, executives and analysts said, with some people only travelling to see their families for Christmas this year for the first time since the pandemic.

But security warnings remain in the back of tourists' minds. In late November, European security officials warned of a growing risk of attacks tied to the Israel-Hamas war, with the biggest threat from potential "lone wolf" assailants.

Two militant attacks in France and Belgium in October killed three people, and these two countries, Austria, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have raised their terrorism threat alert levels. Italy has reimposed border controls with Slovenia, citing the risk of militants entering the country.

There was a slight spike in ticket cancellations over the Christmas period between Dec 21 and 31, ForwardKeys said, from 2.4 per cent to 3 per cent since Nov 24.

"Although this number is small, this could be an impact of the terrorism warning sent throughout Europe since the start of the recent conflict in Israel," said Juan Gomez, an analyst at ForwardKeys.

But tourists continued to swarm popular destinations, displaying an increased trust in the security apparatus in place across European hubs.

"I feel very safe and very conscious of the state of the world. And it's certainly something I think about every day, both conflicts in Europe, conflicts in the Middle East," said Gwen Fitzgerald, who visited a Christmas market in Munich this week from Boston.

"But I also really am desperate for joy at the same time."

Christmas arrivals to places such as Italy, Austria and Sweden have also grown by 25 per cent or more year-on-year.

Tourists said that, with the rise in warnings in recent years and the reinforced security around Europe tied to them, there was more of a sense of calm and they felt comfortable not calling off their travel plans.

"When we are here and we stay just one day in the downtown, we see a lot of police and security, we feel safe," said Danny Sanchez, a tourist from Villareal, Spain, visiting the Munich market//CNA-VOI


Egypt's current Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN Osama Abdekhalek, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad H. Mansour, and Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun interact on the day of a meeting



UNITED NATIONS: A United Nations Security Council vote on a bid to boost aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip has been delayed by another day as talks continue to try and avoid a third US veto of action over the two-month long Israel-Hamas war, diplomats said on Tuesday (Dec 19).

The 15-member council was initially going to vote on a resolution - drafted by the United Arab Emirates - on Monday. But it has repeatedly been delayed as diplomats say the UAE and the US struggle to agree on language citing a cessation of hostilities and a proposal to set up UN aid monitoring. 

When asked if they were getting close to an agreement, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Tuesday: "We're trying, we really are."

The draft resolution would demand Israel and Hamas allow and facilitate land, sea and air deliveries of aid to and throughout the Gaza Strip and ask the United Nations to monitor humanitarian assistance arriving in the Palestinian enclave.

Diplomats said the United States wants to tone done language that "calls for the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities."

The United States and Israel oppose a ceasefire because they believe it would only benefit Hamas. Washington instead supports pauses in fighting to protect civilians and allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

Washington traditionally shields its ally Israel from any Security Council action. It had already twice vetoed Security Council action since an Oct 7 attack by Hamas that Israel says killed 1,200 people and saw 240 people taken hostage.

Israel has retaliated against Hamas by bombarding Gaza from the air, imposing a siege and launching a ground offensive. Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials. U.N. officials warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza with the majority of the coastal Palestinian enclave's 2.3 million people driven from their homes.


Diplomats said that Washington is also unhappy with a proposal in the UAE draft resolution that asks UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a monitoring mechanism in Gaza "to exclusively monitor all humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza provided through land, sea and air routes of those states that are not parties to the conflict."


Limited humanitarian aid and fuel deliveries have crossed into Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt, subjected to monitoring by Israel, but UN officials and aid workers say it comes nowhere near to satisfying the most basic needs of Gazans.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Tuesday that on Sunday 102 aid trucks and four tankers of fuel had entered Gaza via the Rafah and 79 trucks entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom.

"This is well below the daily average of 500 truckloads (including fuel and private sector goods) that entered every working day prior to 7 October," it said in a statement.

Earlier this month the 193-member UN General Assembly demanded a humanitarian ceasefire, with 153 states voting in favour of the move that had been vetoed by the United States in the Security Council days earlier.

A seven-day pause - during which Hamas released some hostages, some Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails and there was an increase in aid to Gaza - had ended on Dec 1//CNA-VOI




An aerial view shows flooding caused by heavy rains and water gushing through the Barron River, in Cairns, Queensland, Australia on Dec 18, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video. (Screengrab: Brent Paterson via Reuters) - 



SYDNEY: Residents in Australia's northeast on Tuesday (Dec 19) took stock of flood damages from former Tropical Cyclone Jasper and authorities accelerated efforts to rescue people stranded in remote towns as rivers stayed above dangerous levels.

Jasper made landfall last week as a category 2 storm, three rungs below the most dangerous wind speed level, in the far north of Queensland state, home to several resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef.

It was soon downgraded to a tropical low but the system moved slowly, dumping months worth of rain over four days, cutting off entire towns, and inundating homes, roads and farms.

Conditions have since eased with military personnel joining the state's emergency crews on evacuations and relief efforts. Search continued for an 85-year-old man missing in flood waters.

Flights from Cairns Airport, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, will resume on Tuesday, officials said.

"Today, we will really see the beginning of the recovery effort across much of Far North Queensland. So, there'll be a big focus on recovery work," Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"We're going to see a very large amount of property damage ... So, I think we're up for a pretty expensive repair bill," Watt said.

The Insurance Council of Australia said the flooding could be escalated to an insurance catastrophe if there was a spike in claims, though it was too early to determine the full impact.

Television footage showed residents walking through homes strewn with debris and sludge after water levels receded in some towns during a pause in rains.

Authorities said most of the 300 residents from the flooded remote Indigenous town of Wujal Wujal will be evacuated soon. Some residents there had to wade through crocodile-infested waters to get to higher ground, according to media reports.

A 2.8m-long crocodile was captured on Monday in a storm drain in Ingham, a town of about 5,000. Crocodile sightings in north Queensland are more common in rivers, lagoons and swamps in rural areas//CNA-VOI


A South Korean building complex is seen in the background as North Korean soldiers guard the truce village at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas in Panmunjom, North Korea on Jun 20, 2018. (Photo: AP/Dita Alangkara) - 



SEOUL: International troops stationed on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom on the border with North Korea who had been unarmed can resume carrying guns, the United Nations Command (UNC) said on Tuesday (Dec 19).

The US-led UNC is a multinational military force and oversees affairs in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war.

Panmunjom, which has been a popular tourist destination, is known formally as the Joint Security Area (JSA) - a cluster of buildings that has hosted inter-Korean talks and where troops from both sides stand almost face to face.

The decision this month to allow UNC troops to carry guns came after North Korean soldiers of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) had resumed "an armed security posture" in the area, said Colonel Isaac Taylor, the spokesperson for the UNC.

Taylor said the move was aimed at protecting both civilian and military personnel in the border area.

"This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution, but UNC has also informed the ROK (South Korea) government and KPA of its position that a disarmed JSA is safer and more peaceful for the Korean Peninsula," Taylor said.

The two Koreas had agreed not to arm their troops on the JSA under a 2018 inter-Korean military pact, but North Korean troops have been reported to be carrying guns since November after a partial unravelling of the agreement.


Last month, South Korea suspended part of the pact aimed at de-escalating border tensions in a protest over Pyongyang's launch of a spy satellite.


North Korea responded by scrapping the accord and pledging to deploy stronger armed forces and new weapons on the border.


Taking a tour to the DMZ has been a popular activity for tourists looking to get a glimpse of the reclusive authoritarian state, but the trips to the JSA were suspended after a US soldier dashed across the border in July.


South Korea said some JSA tours restarted last month, though media reports said they had been suspended again due to increased tensions with the North//CNA-VOI



FILE PHOTO: The Galaxy Leader cargo ship is escorted by Houthi boats in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023. Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo - 



DUBAI: Mounting attacks by the Iran-aligned Yemeni Houthi militant group on ships in the Red Sea are disrupting maritime trade as leading global freight firms reroute around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the Suez Canal.

Multiple "projectiles" were fired from Houthi-controlled territory on Monday (Dec 18) at a vessel in the southern Red Sea, US officials said. The Houthi movement has launched a series of missile and drone attacks on ships in the area, which it says are a response to Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack. Several major freight companies - including MSC and Maersk - have begun to sail around Africa, adding costs and delays which are expected to be compounded over the coming weeks, according to industry analysts. About 15 per cent of world shipping traffic transits via the Suez Canal, the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Combined, the companies that have diverted vessels "control around half of the global container shipping market", ABN Amro analyst Albert Jan Swart told Reuters.

"Avoiding the Red Sea will lead to higher costs due to longer travel time."

British energy giant BP on Monday said it had joined other companies in suspending transits through the Red Sea.

"In light of the deteriorating security situation for shipping in the Red Sea, BP has decided to temporarily pause all transits," a statement said.

"We will keep this precautionary pause under ongoing review, subject to circumstances as they evolve in the region," it added.

BP said "safety and security" of staff was "priority".

The war between Israel and Hamas, which began on Oct 7, has sent shockwaves through the region and drawn in the United States and its allies on one side and Iran-backed paramilitary groups in the Middle East on the other, threatening to cause a broader conflict.

The shipping attacks have prompted the United States and its allies to discuss a task force that would protect Red Sea routes, a move that US and Israeli arch-foe Tehran has warned would be a mistake.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday arrived for talks in the region. Rico Luman, an analyst at ING, said the diversions were adding at least a week of sailing time for container liners. Typically, shipping goods from Shanghai to Rotterdam takes around 27 days via the Suez Canal.

"This will at least lead to delays in late December, with knock-on effects in January and probably February as the next round will also be delayed," Luman said.

While freight rates will likely increase on these longer voyages too, carriers at the moment are seeking ways to utilize excess capacity, said Zvi Schreiber, CEO of global freight platform Freightos.

"It is unlikely that rates will spike to levels experienced during the pandemic," said Schreiber, referring to the economic effects of COVID-19 from 2020.

Shipping stocks rose across European exchanges in morning trading on Monday after a jump on Friday on bets the shift away from the Suez Canal could boost rates. Maersk rose 3.5 per cent in early trade in Copenhagen, before paring some of those gains.

The Suez Canal is an important source of foreign currency for Egypt. About 90 per cent of world trade is transported by sea.

The International Chamber of Shipping said on Friday that the Houthi assault on shipping lanes, which began last month, was an "extremely serious threat to international trade" and urged naval forces in the area to do all they can to stop the attacks//CNA-VOI


People watch as the night sky is illuminated caused by the eruption of a volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula of south-west Iceland seen from the capital city of Reykjavik on Dec 18, 2023. (Photo: AP/Brynjar Gunnarsson) - 



REYKJAVIK: A volcanic eruption began on Monday (Dec 18) night in Iceland, south of the capital Reykjavik, following an earthquake swarm, Iceland's Meteorological Office said. For weeks, the Nordic country has been on high alert for a potential eruption at any moment after a period of intense seismic activity on the southwest peninsula, which last month prompted evacuation orders.

"At 22.17 this evening, a volcanic eruption began north of Grindavik on the Reykjanes peninsula," the IMO said, adding that it could be seen from nearby webcams.

The live-streamed footage of the eruption showed large jets of glowing orange lava spewing into the night sky, surrounded by billowing red smoke.

"A Coast Guard helicopter will take off shortly to confirm the exact location and size of the eruption," the IMO said.

In November, thousands of small earthquakes rattled the region south of Reykjavik. The roughly 4,000 residents of Grindavik, a fishing port around 40km from the capital, were evacuated on Nov 11 after officials determined a tunnel of magma was shifting beneath them, considered a precursor to an eruption.

Residents told AFP the seismic activity had damaged roads and buildings. Since then, they have only been allowed to visit their homes during certain daylight hours. Authorities have organised occasional trips into the village, escorting those with homes in the most perilous parts to rescue everything from cherished pets to photo albums, furniture and clothing.

Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in Iceland, which is home to 33 active volcano systems, the highest number in Europe. But the Reykjanes peninsula had not experienced an eruption for eight centuries until 2021.

Since then, three eruptions have struck - all in remote, uninhabited areas - and volcanologists say this could be the start of a new era of activity in the region. Previous eruptions near the Fagradalsfjall volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula took place in 2021, 2022 and earlier this year.

In 2010, the eruption of Iceland's long-dormant Eyjafjallajokull volcano - an ice-capped volcano more than 1,660 metres tall - shot huge amounts of ash into the atmosphere. That massive, explosive eruption was not fatal, but forced the cancellation of around 100,000 flights and left more than 10 million travellers stranded.

Situated in the North Atlantic, Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack in the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates//CNA-VOI



A makeshift memorial for actor Matthew Perry, the wise-cracking co-star of the 1990s hit television sitcom Friends, who was found dead at his Los Angeles home on Oct 28, is pictured on Bedford Street in Manhattan in New York City, US,



Voinews, Jakarta - Friends star Matthew Perry died from the "acute effects" of the powerful sedative ketamine that, combined with other factors, caused the actor to lose consciousness and drown in his hot tub, according to an autopsy released on Friday (Oct 15).

The report from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner came nearly seven weeks after Perry, 54, who publicly acknowledged decades of drug and alcohol abuse, was found by his live-in assistant floating face down and lifeless in the jacuzzi of his Los Angeles home.

Toxicology tests found ketamine, a short-acting anaesthetic with hallucinogenic properties, in Perry's body at high levels well within the range typically associated with general anaesthesia used in monitored surgical care, the report said.

"Matthew Perry's cause of death is determined to be from the acute effects of ketamine," the autopsy concluded.

Coronary artery disease, the effects of the opioid-addiction medicine buprenorphine, also detected in his system, and drowning were listed as contributing factors in his death, which was ruled an accident.

The concentrations of ketamine in Perry's body would have overstimulated his heart rate while depressing his breathing, likely leading him to lapse into unconsciousness before his face slipped below the water in the hot tub, the report said.

"The exact method of intake in Mr Perry's case is unknown," the report said, adding that trace amounts of the drug showed up in his stomach. No recent needle marks were found on his body, it said.

Referred to as a "dissociative anaesthetic hallucinogen" because it produces a feeling of detachment from pain, anxiety and the environment, ketamine can be injected, mixed with liquids, snorted as a powder or smoked, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Autopsy findings suggested Perry may have been self-medicating with ketamine between medically supervised treatments with the drug.

According to witness interviews cited in the report, Perry had been undergoing ketamine infusion therapy for depression and anxiety. But his last known treatment was a week and a half before his death, so the ketamine found in his system by medical examiners would have been introduced since that last infusion, the report said.

Perry's Oct 28 death came one year after the publication of his memoir, Friends, Lovers, And The Big Terrible Thing, which chronicled his decades-long bouts with addiction to prescription painkillers and alcohol, a struggle he said came close to ending his life more than once.

Perry, best known for his role as Chandler Bing on the 1990s hit television sitcom Friends, had been sober for 19 months with no known substance abuse relapses before his death, according to interviews cited in the autopsy.

Investigators found no alcohol, illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia at the scene of his death. Multiple nicotine vaping products and an inhaler were found in Perry's living room. Injectables of the anti-diabetes medication tirzepatide and nicotine lollipops were in the refrigerator.

The actor had stopped smoking two weeks earlier, had been prescribed Tamoxifen – a hormone regulator usually taken for breast cancer prevention – for weight loss, and was receiving testosterone shots, the report said.

Non-toxic levels of some prescription medications were detected in Perry's body, but no traces of alcohol, cocaine, heroin or other illegal narcotics were found, the report said.

As was widely reported since, Perry had played pickleball hours before his death, and a witness who knew the actor told investigators he seemed to be in "good spirits" when she last spoke with him days earlier, the report said//CNA-VOI



Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Dec 16, 2023. (Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information) - 



SINGAPORE: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida on Saturday (Dec 16) during his trip to Tokyo.

Mr Lee is in Tokyo from Dec 15 to Dec 18 for the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit. 

The prime ministers welcomed the signing of a memorandum of cooperation to establish a green and digital shipping corridor between ports in Singapore and Japan.

The agreement will facilitate the adoption of digital solutions and the provision of zero and near-zero emission fuels through demonstration projects, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a statement on Saturday.

Both prime ministers also reaffirmed the longstanding and excellent relations between Singapore and Japan, and discussed how the countries could further expand and deepen cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as the future economy, digitalisation, security, as well as sustainability and energy.

The leaders exchanged views on regional and international developments, and emphasised the importance of upholding a rules-based international order and the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

"Both leaders welcomed the upgrade of ASEAN-Japan relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership earlier this year, and noted that this would be an opportunity to further ties between both sides as well as jointly address the challenges facing the region," said MFA.

The prime ministers also "looked forward to celebrating 60 years of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relations in 2026".


The memorandum of cooperation to establish a green and digital shipping corridor was signed by Singapore's Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat and Japan's Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Saito Tetsuo.


This memorandum marks the first green and digital shipping corridor established between Singapore and Japan to develop standards and best practices supporting the decarbonisation, digitalisation and growth of the maritime industry, said Singapore's Ministry of Transport (MOT)//CNA-VOI



A natural gas pipeline, and the logos of Tokyo Gas and Rockcliff Energy are seen in this illustration taken January 4, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo - 



TOKYO : A unit of Tokyo Gas has decided to buy Texas-based natural gas producer Rockcliff Energy from private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners for $2.7 billion to expand its overseas business, it said on Saturday.

The deal comes as part of the Japanese company's efforts to expand its North American shale gas operations to meet growing demand for natural gas as an energy transition fuel.

Tokyo Gas, Japan's biggest city gas supplier, and other utilities are stepping up overseas expansion to counter falling demand in their domestic market. Japan has an ageing population and a declining birthrate, while energy market reform has spurred competition among old-guard utilities.

Under the deal, TG Natural Resources (TGNR) - 79 per cent owned by Tokyo Gas - will buy all shares in Rockcliff Energy from Quantum Energy Partners. The deal is expected to close on Dec. 29, Tokyo Gas said.

With the acquisition, TGNR's natural gas production will quadruple to 1.3 billion cubic feet per day from about 330 million cubic feet per day, making it one of the largest shale gas producers in Texas and Louisiana, according to Tokyo Gas.

"We expect our gas production will be more efficient after the acquisition as Rockcliff Energy's output area is located adjacent to TGNR's blocks," Takashi Nakao, senior general manager of global business development at Tokyo Gas, told reporters.

The production is also close to new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals and other facilities expected to increase demand for natural gas in the future, Nakao said.

Asked if the supply will be exported to Japan as LNG, Nakao said the current plan is to sell all the gas in the U.S. domestic market, though he did not rule out possibly sending it as LNG to Japan in the future.

Talks about the acquisition were reported by Reuters early this year//CNA-VOI


FILE PHOTO: SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake - 



SpaceX said it was targeting Thursday, Dec. 28 for the launch of the U.S. military's X-37B robot spaceplane on its seventh mission to orbit.

"Now targeting no earlier than Thursday, December 28 for Falcon Heavy to launch USSF-52 to orbit from Florida," SpaceX said in a post on X on Friday, after it stood down on the launch earlier this week to perform additional system checkouts.

The original plan to send the spacecraft to orbit late on Sunday was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions at Cape Canaveral, Florida//CNA-VOI

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