A strong earthquake hit central Croatia on Tuesday, causing major damage to homes and other buildings in a town southeast of the capital. A girl was killed in the quake and a man and a boy were pulled out alive from a car buried in rubble and sent to a hospital.
The European Mediterranean Seismological Center said a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit 46 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of Zagreb. Initial reports said the earthquake caused wide damage, collapsing roofs, building facades and even some entire buildings, reports AP.
The same area was struck by a 5.2 quake on Monday and several smaller aftershocks were felt Tuesday.
Croatian state broadcaster HRT said a girl died in the earthquake in Petrinja, a town southeast of the capital that was hit hardest by the earthquake. Other Croatian media also reported the death, quoting the town’s mayor. The child’s age or other details were not immediately available.
“The center of Petrinja as it used to be no longer exists,” HRT said in its report. “One girl died and there are injuries and people inside collapsed buildings.”
“My town has been completely destroyed, we have dead children,” Petrinja Mayor Darinko Dumbovic said in a statement broadcast by HRT TV. “This is like Hiroshima - half of the city no longer exists.”
“The city has been demolished, the city is no longer livable,” he said. “We need help.”
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and other government ministers arrived in Petrinja after the earthquake.
Also read:5.1 magnitude earthquake jolts Dhaka
Regional TV channel N1 reported live Tuesday from the town that a collapsed building had fallen on a car. The footage showed firefighters trying to remove the debris to reach the car, which was buried underneath. A man and a small boy eventually were rescued from the car and carried into an ambulance.
Fallen bricks and dust littered the streets, and many houses were completely destroyed. The Croatian military was deployed in Petrinja to help with the rescue operation.
Croatian media said people were injured by the quake, but could not initially say how many amid the confusion and downed phone lines.
Croatian seismologist Kresimir Kuk described the earthquake as “extremely strong,” far stronger than another one that hit Zagreb and nearby areas in the spring. He warned people to keep out of potentially shaky, old buildings and to move to the newer areas of the city because of the aftershocks.
In the capital, people ran out into the streets and parks in fear. Many reportedly were leaving Zagreb, ignoring a travel ban imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The earthquake was felt throughout the country and in neighboring Serbia, Bosnia and Slovenia. It even was felt as far away as Graz in southern Austria, the Austria Press Agency reported.
Authorities in Slovenia said the Krsko nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down following the earthquake. The power plant is jointly owned by Slovenia and Croatia and located near their border.
A timeline of key events related to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union:
Jan. 23, 2013: British Prime Minister David Cameron promises a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU if the Conservative Party wins the next general election. He does so to try to garner support among euroskeptics within his own party, reports AP.
May. 7, 2015: British voters elect a majority Conservative government. Cameron confirms in his victory speech that there will be an “in/out” referendum on European Union membership.
Feb. 20, 2016: Cameron announces that he has negotiated a deal with EU leaders that gives Britain “special status.” He confirms that he will campaign for Britain to remain in the 28-nation bloc. The referendum date is set for June.
Feb. 21: Cameron is struck with a severe blow when one of his closest Conservative allies, the media-savvy Boris Johnson, joins the “leave” campaign.
June 16: One week before the referendum, Labour Party lawmaker and “remain” campaigner Jo Cox is killed by extremist Thomas Mair, who shouted “Britain First” before shooting and stabbing her.
June 23: Britain votes 52% to 48% to leave the European Union.
June 24: Cameron says he will resign in light of the results because Britain needs “fresh leadership” to take the country in a new direction.
July 13: Following a Conservative Party leadership contest, Home Secretary Theresa May becomes prime minister.
March 29, 2017: The British government formally triggers Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, setting in motion a two-year process for Britain to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.
June 8: A general election called by May to bolster her party’s representation in Parliament to help with the Brexit negotiations backfires. Her Conservative Party loses its majority and continues in a weakened state as a minority government.
July 7, 2018: May and her Cabinet endorse the so-called “Chequers Plan” worked out at a fractious session at the prime minister’s country retreat. The plan leads to the resignations of Brexit Secretary David Davis, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and others who favor a more definitive break with EU.
Nov. 25: EU leaders approve a withdrawal deal reached with Britain after months of difficult negotiations. May urges the British Parliament to back the agreement.
Dec. 10: May delays the planned Brexit vote in Parliament one day before it is set to be held because it faces certain defeat. She seeks further concessions from the EU.
Dec. 12: Conservative lawmakers who back a clean break from the EU trigger a no-confidence vote in May over her handling of Brexit. She wins by 200 votes to 117, making her safe from another such challenge for a year.
Jan. 15, 2019: The Brexit deal comes back to Parliament, where it is overwhelmingly defeated on a 432-202 vote. The House of Commons will end up rejecting May’s agreement three times.
March 21 EU agrees to extended the Brexit deadline, just over a week before Britain's scheduled departure on March 29
April 11: Britain and the EU agree for a second time to extend the withdrawal deadline to keep Brexit from happening without a deal in place. The new deadline is Oct. 31.
June 7: May steps down as Conservative Party leader over the stalled Brexit agreement.
July 23: Boris Johnson elected new Conservative Party leader
July 24: Johnson takes office as prime minister, insisting the U.K. with leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal.
Aug. 28: Johnson says he will temporarily shut down Parliament until mid-October, giving opponents less time to thwart a no-deal Brexit.
Sept. 3: Rebel Conservative Party lawmakers vote against the government in protest of Johnson’s strategy. They are expelled from the party.
Sept. 5: Johnson asserts he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for another Brexit extension.
Sept. 9: A parliamentary measure that prevents the U.K. from leaving the EU without a deal becomes law.
Sept. 24: U.K. Supreme Court rules government’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful.
Oct. 10: Johnson and Irish leader Leo Varadkar meet and announce “pathway to a possible deal.″
Oct. 17: U.K. and EU announce they’ve struck a deal after the .K. makes concessions over Northern Ireland.
Oct. 19: Parliament sits on a Saturday and demands to see legislation before approving the deal.
Oct. 22: Johnson puts Brexit legislation on pause .
Oct. 28: Johnson asks the EU to delay Brexit again. The new deadline is Jan. 31.
Oct. 29 Parliament votes for a national election at the request of Johnson', who hopes it will break the Brexit stalemate.
Dec. 12: Johnson wins a large majority in the general election, giving him the power to push through Brexit legislation.
Jan. 23, 2020: EU Withdrawal Bill becomes law.
Jan. 29: European Parliament approves the Brexit divorce deal.
Jan. 31: U.K. officially leaves the EU at 11 p.m., entering an 11-month transition period put in place for the two sides to negotiate a deal on their future relations.
Dec. 7: After months of U.K.-EU negotiations, Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen say significant differences still stand in the way of a free trade deal.
Dec. 9 Johnson and von der Leyen hold a dinner meeting in Brussels to see whether the differences can be bridged. They don't make a breakthrough but announce negotiations will continue for four more days, setting a Dec. 13 deadline for a final deal or no-deal decision.
Dec, 13: Von der Leyen and Johnson say negotiations will continue, vowing to go the “extra mile” to get a deal.
Dec, 24: The U.K. and EU announce they have struck a provisional agreement, just over a week before the year-end deadline.
Just a week before the deadline, Britain and the European Union struck a free-trade deal Thursday that should avert economic chaos on New Year's and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.
Once ratified by both sides, the agreement will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas after the UK breaks fully free of the EU on Jan 1.
Relief was palpable all around that nine months of tense and often testy negotiations had finally produced a positive result.
The Christmas Eve breakthrough was doubly welcome amid a coronavirus pandemic that has left some 70,000 people in Britain dead and led the country's neighbors to shut their borders to the UK over a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the virus spreading in England.
“We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny,” declared British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who posted a picture of himself on social media, beaming with thumbs up.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “it was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it.”
“It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides,” she said in Brussels.
The 27 EU countries and the British and European parliaments still need to vote on the agreement, though action by the European body may not happen until after the Jan 1 breakup. Britain's Parliament is set to vote Dec 30.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, Thursday, Dec 24, 2020. AP photo
France, long seen as Britain's toughest obstacle to a deal, said the uncanny steadfastness among the 27 nations with widely varying interests was a triumph in itself.
“European unity and firmness paid off," French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.
And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that unity will now probably result in all the EU nations backing the deal: “I am very optimistic that we can present a good result here."
It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the UK’s borders and laws.
It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures last January. Disentangling the two sides’ economies and reconciling Britain's desire for independence with the EU's aim of preserving its unity took months longer.
The devil will be in the detail of the 2,000-page agreement, but both sides claimed the deal protects their cherished goals. Britain said it gives the UK control over its money, borders, laws and fishing waters and ensures the country is “no longer in the lunar pull of the EU.”
Von der Leyen said it protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.
If Britain were to quit the EU with no agreement governing trade, the two sides would reinstate tariffs on each other's goods.
Johnson's government acknowledged that a chaotic no-deal exit — or a “crash-out,” as the British call it — would probably bring gridlock at the country's ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. The turmoil could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
To avoid that, negotiating sessions alternating between London and Brussels — and sometimes disrupted by the pandemic —- gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes, and fishing rights.
The EU has long feared that Britain would slash social, environmental and state aid rules after Brexit and gain a competitive advantage over the EU. Britain denies planning to institute weaker standards but said that having to follow EU regulations would undermine its sovereignty.
A compromise was eventually reached on the tricky “level playing field” issues. That left the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fishing rights as the final sticking point, with maritime EU nations seeking to retain access to UK waters where they have long fished and Britain insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state."
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, and European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier address a media conference on Brexit negotiations at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Dec 24, 2020. AP photo
Under the deal, the EU is giving up a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters, far less than the 80 percent Britain initially demanded. The system will be in place for 5 1/2 years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.
The UK has remained part of the EU's single market and customs union during the 11-month post-Brexit transition period. As a result, many people so far have noticed little impact from Brexit.
On Jan 1, the breakup will start feeling real. Even with a trade deal, goods and people will no longer be able to move freely between the UK and its continental neighbors without border restrictions.
EU citizens will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas – though that does not apply to the 4 million already doing so – and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations. Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles.
The UK-EU border is already reeling from new restrictions placed on travelers from Britain into France and other European countries because of the new version of the coronavirus sweeping through London and southern England.
Thousands of trucks were stuck in traffic jams near the port of Dover on Wednesday, waiting for their drivers to get virus tests so they could enter the Eurotunnel to France.
British supermarkets said the backlog will take days to clear and there could be shortages of some fresh produce over the holiday season.
Despite the deal, there are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security cooperation between the UK and the bloc — with the UK set to lose access to real-time information in some EU law-enforcement databases — and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.
Von der Leyen said she felt “quiet satisfaction,” but no joy, now that the torrid Brexit saga that has consumed Britain and the EU for years is finally almost over.
"I know this is a difficult day for some, and to our friends in the United Kingdom I want to say parting is such sweet sorrow," she said.
Johnson, who staked his career and reputation on extracting the country from the EU, said Britain will always be a strong friend and partner to the bloc.
“Although we have left the EU, this country will remain, culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe," he said.
About 20 African migrants were found dead Thursday after their smuggling boat, which was trying to reach Europe, sank in the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisian authorities said. Five survivors were rescued and the Tunisian navy is searching for up to 20 others still believed missing, reports AP.
Tunisian coast guard boats and local fishermen found the bodies off the coastal city of Sfax in central Tunisia, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ben Zekri told The Associated Press.
According to the survivors, the migrant smuggling boat was carrying about 40 or 50 people heading toward Italy, Ben Zekri said.
The boat was overloaded and in poor condition, and faced strong winds Thursday morning that may have contributed to the sinking, said National Guard spokesman Ali Ayari. It was carrying migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, he told The AP.
Also read: 56,800 migrants dead and missing in 4 years
Tunisian navy units were on the scene to search for any more survivors.
Tunisian authorities say they have intercepted several migrant smuggling boats recently but that the number of attempts has been growing, notably between the Sfax region and the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Migrant smuggling boats frequently leave from the coast of Tunisia and neighboring Libya carrying people from across Africa, including a growing number of Tunisians fleeing prolonged economic difficulties in their country.
Tunisians have made up the vast majority of migrants arriving in Italy this year, despite efforts by Rome to negotiate with Tunis to put a stop to the crossings. Of the 34,001 migrants who had arrived in Italy so far this year, 12,847 were Tunisian, or 38%. Bangladeshis were the next biggest group, followed by those from Ivory Coast, Algeria, Pakistan and Egypt.
Stranded Europe-bound truckers hoped Tuesday to receive the green light to get out of Britain soon, after some of the most dramatic travel restrictions of the pandemic were imposed on the country following the discovery of a potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus.
More than 1,500 trucks snaked along a major highway in southeast England near the country’s vital Channel ports or crowded into a disused airport, illustrating the scale of Britain’s isolation after countries from Canada to India banned flights from the U.K. and France barred the entry of its trucks for 48 hours beginning Sunday night, reports AP.
For a country of islands that relies heavily on its commercial links with France, that’s potentially very serious — and raised concerns of food shortages if the restrictions weren’t lifted by Wednesday.
Hopes increased over Tuesday that the stranded drivers may soon be able to get on the road again as the European Union’s executive arm pushed for a coordinated response to the travel restrictions on the U.K. The European Commission said people returning to their home countries or main places of residence should be able to do so provided they test negative test for the virus or quarantine.
Though Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said EU countries should work together to “discourage nonessential travel” between the bloc and Britain, he said “blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and U.K. citizens from returning to their homes.”
The commission added that “cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel told BBC radio that the British government is “speaking constantly” with France to get freight moving again. France has said it wants to lift the ban as soon as possible and is looking at ways of testing drivers on their arrival.
While the French ban does not prevent trucks from entering Britain, many vehicles that carry cargo from the country to the continent return laden with goods. The fear is that will fall off — reducing deliveries to Britain at a time of year when the U.K. produces very little of its food and relies heavily on produce brought from Europe by truck.
Also, some drivers or their employers might decide against entering Britain for fear they won’t be able to get back home.
Also read: UK’s Covid-19 cases reach 390,358
The restrictions were creating a feeling of isolation in Britain akin to what the residents of Hubei province in China at the start of the year or those in northern Italy must have experienced a few months later.
Given that around 10,000 trucks pass through the Dover every day, accounting for about 20% of the country’s trade in goods, retailers are getting increasingly concerned if there is no resolution soon.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, warned of potential shortages of food like lettuce, vegetables and fresh fruit after Christmas if the borders are not “running pretty much freely” from Wednesday.
The problem, he explained, is the empty trucks sitting in England can’t get pick up new deliveries for Britain.
“They need to get back to places like Spain to pick up the next consignment of raspberries and strawberries, and they need to get back within the next day or so, otherwise we will see disruption,” he said.
Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict lockdown measures in London and neighboring areas amid mounting concerns over the new variant to the virus, which early indications show might be 70% more transmissible.
As a result, Johnson scrapped a planned relaxation of rules over Christmastime for millions of people and banned indoor mixing of households. Only essential travel will be permitted.
Amid questions about whether vaccines being rolled out now would work against the new strain, the chief executive of BioNTech — the German pharmaceutical company behind one of those shots — said he was confident it would be effective, but further studies are need to be completely sure.
Ugur Sahin said Tuesday that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant” but because the proteins on the variant are 99% the same as the prevailing strains BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.
Also read: Covid-19: Global cases surpass 77 million
There are mounting concerns that the whole of the U.K. will be put into a national lockdown after Christmas as new infections soar, including in Wales where 90 soldiers from the British Army will be reenlisted to drive vehicles from Wednesday to support health teams responding to emergency calls.
The British government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, warned Monday that measures “may need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.” For many, that was code for another national lockdown.
While the new variant is being assessed, countries were trying to limit contact with Britain, even though there is evidence of the strain elsewhere already.
In Switzerland, for example, authorities are trying to track an estimated 10,000 people who have arrived by plane from Britain since Dec. 14 — and has ordered them to quarantine for 10 days.
Switzerland was one of the 40-odd countries to ban flights from the U.K. over concerns about the new variant.
The quarantine order is likely to affect thousands of Brits who may have already headed to Swiss ski resorts. Unlike many of its neighbors, Switzerland has left most of its slopes open, attracting enthusiasts from around Europe.
The virus is blamed for 1.7 million deaths worldwide, including about 68,000 in Britain, the second-highest death toll in Europe, behind Italy’s 69,000.
The chaos at the border comes at a time of huge uncertainty for Britain, less than two weeks before it completes its exit from the EU and frees itself from the bloc’s rules. Talks on a post-Brexit trade relationship between the two sides are deadlocked.