California fires death toll increases to 23; more than 600 missing
The death toll from the California wildfires rose to 23 on Wednesday, with more than 600 people unaccounted for, according to Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano. A weather change, with increased winds and low humidity, caused fires that were under control to intensify and spread. As a precautionary measure, California authorities issued new evacuation orders. Twenty-two different fires are now burning, up from 17 on Tuesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The fires, which began Sunday, have burned 170,000 acres of land. Around 25,000 people in the affected areas have evacuated their homes. The Associated Press (AP) reports that 3,500 homes and business have burned since Sunday; The Washington Post writes that nearly 80 cell towers have burned, disabling or interrupting service in some areas.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump approved a federal emergency aid request submitted by California Governor Jerry Brown. The Post reports it is to provide “immediate funds for debris clearing and supplies for evacuation centers, among other aid.”
Madrid issues ultimatum to Catalonia government on independence declaration
On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he had asked Catalonia’s regional government to clarify whether it had officially declared independence, giving it five days to reply. If the reply is “yes,” then Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont will have until Thursday, Oct. 19, to withdraw the declaration. If the Catalan government does not comply, Madrid will invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, Rajoy announced. Article 155 would suspend the region’s autonomy and place it under direct rule from Madrid.
Rajoy added that he was willing to negotiate regional autonomy and possible changes to the Spanish Constitution within the framework of existing laws. Catalan government spokesperson Jordi Turull said the Catalan government has “given up absolutely nothing … We have taken a time out,” following the signing of the declaration of independence Tuesday.
Catalonia represents 16 percent of Spain’s population and nearly a fifth of its GDP, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
16 dead after Mexico prison gang fight, riot
A gang fight that developed into a prison riot in Cadereyta prison in northern Mexico killed 16 inmates on Tuesday. AP reported that the fight began overnight with a protest by one of the several rival gangs housed within the facilities. Security guards were subsequently taken hostage, according to Nuevo León state security spokesman Aldo Fasci. Police attempted to negotiate with the prisoners and stop the disturbance. When negotiations failed, and the fight grew to include around 250 inmates, authorities used lethal force to protect the lives of the 4,000 inmates and guards, Fasci said.
He added that autopsies would determine how many inmates had been killed as a result of the fighting, and how many by police gunfire. No guards were killed.
Iraqi court issues arrest warrants for Kurdish independence vote organizers
On Wednesday, Iraq’s Federal Rusafa Investigation Court issued arrest warrants for members of the Kurdistan region’s electoral commission involved in organizing a Sept. 25 independence referendum. Court spokesperson Abdulstar Bayraqdar said the warrants were the result of a lawsuit filed by Iraq’s National Security Council. The suit argued the referendum went against a federal high court decision.
Ninety-two percent of the Kurds who voted in the non-binding referendum were in favor of independence. The Kurdistan region’s government did not declare independence after the vote.
The Kurds acquired autonomy from Iraq in 1991, but have never had their own state. Kurds make up around 15 to 20 percent of Iraq’s population of 37 million.
Thailand to hold general election in 2018
On Tuesday, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters in Bangkok that the country would hold a general election in November 2018. The exact date would be announced in June next year, he added. Thailand has been under military rule since 2014, when Prayuth, former Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army, took power from the government of then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The commander initially announced an election for 2015, but later postponed it.
In April, Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed a new constitution, which would introduce a proportional voting system. In such a system, parliamentary seats are allocated by the percentage of votes, meaning, the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the percentage of votes it garners.
The April constitution gives authorities 240 days to write 10 new bills, of which four must be enacted before an election can be held. These are bills concerning the Election Commission, political parties, the election of lawmakers and the acquisition of senators. The first two have been approved by Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly and have been sent to the king for endorsement. Once the four bills have been adopted, an election will be held within 150 days, according to Section 268 of the new constitution.