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Chile’s former president Sebastian Pinera dies in helicopter crash

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(Last Updated On: February 7, 2024)

Chilean ex-President Sebastian Pinera died in a helicopter crash on Tuesday, sending the country he led for two terms into mourning and prompting an outpouring of condolences from leaders across Latin America, Reuters reported.

The helicopter carrying Pinera, 74, and three others plunged into a lake in southern Chile. The former president was pronounced dead shortly after rescue personnel arrived at the scene. The other three passengers survived.

Two sources told Reuters Pinera was the pilot, although officials have not confirmed that, nor the helicopter’s intended destination.

Pinera often spent the Southern Hemisphere summers near the picturesque lakes that dot Chile’s south, and frequently piloted his own helicopter.

President Gabriel Boric declared three days of national mourning, while preparations have begun for a state funeral on Friday for the former leader, who served two non-consecutive terms between 2010 and 2022.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the ex-president’s body had been recovered from the lake, near the town of Lago Ranco, read the report.

“We remember him for the way he dedicated his life to public service,” said Toha, who has been helping to lead efforts to battle deadly wildfires in recent days.

Pinera was perhaps best known abroad for his role overseeing the spectacular rescue in 2010 of 33 miners who were trapped underneath the Atacama desert. The event became a global media sensation and was the subject of a 2014 movie, “The 33.”

In Chile, he was known as a successful businessman whose first term was boosted by rapid economic growth but who was often seen as out-of-touch with the country’s fast-changing society.

Both his presidencies were marred by frequent protests – of students demanding education reform in the first term, and of wider and often violent protests against inequality in his second term that ended with the government promising to draft a new constitution.

After leaving the presidency, Pinera remained active in politics, speaking out on issues like the attempt to draft a new constitution – which ultimately failed – and backing conservative politicians in the region, including Argentine President Javier Milei.

Former Argentine President Mauricio Macri expressed his sadness at the news of Pinera’s death. “He was a good person, committed like no one else to Chile and to the values of freedom and democracy in Latin America,” he said.

The son of a prominent centrist politician, Pinera was a Harvard-trained economist who made his fortune introducing credit cards to Chile in the 1980s.

He was also a major shareholder in the flagship airline formerly known as LAN, local soccer team Colo-Colo, and a television station, although he sold most of those holdings when he took over the presidency in March 2010. As of 2024, he was ranked 1,176 on Forbes’ global rich list, with a net worth of $2.7 billion, Reuters reported.

Known for a driven and competitive personality, one friend described Pinera as someone who could be a bully, reluctant to delegate responsibility.

He was also a risk-taker who enjoyed deep-sea diving.

Running for election to the presidency after a spell as a center-right senator, he wooed moderate voters by portraying himself as the leader of a new right and an entrepreneur who made his fortune with hard work.

At the same time, he distanced himself from the 1973-1990 rule of General Augusto Pinochet, when more than 3,000 suspected leftists were killed or “disappeared.”

He lost his first attempt at the top job in 2005 to popular center-left leader Michelle Bachelet, but she was barred constitutionally from running for a second consecutive term and in 2009 he beat ex-president Eduardo Frei by a small margin.

That ended the 20-year rule of the center-left and fended off the bitter memories of Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship that had hurt the right in past elections.

His honeymoon with the electorate was short-lived, though, and his stiff manner contrasted with the more amiable Bachelet, who both preceded and succeeded him as president.

Despite plaudits for his government’s economic record, many Chileans felt he did not do enough to tackle deep inequality or address inadequacies in the country’s education system.

Pinera and his wife Cecilia Morel had four children.

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Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.

A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians, Reuters reported.

Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the “attack did not achieve its aims”.

The neighbourhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centres, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.

Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Iran’s semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike, read the report.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.

Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.

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US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

A U.S. military Mq-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Iran-backed militants, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the second time such a shoot down has taken place in recent months during a near daily tit-for-tat between the group and U.S. forces, Reuters reported.

The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, have carried out repeated drone and missile strikes since November in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait against commercial and military ships. U.S. and British forces have responded with multiple strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said initial information showed that the U.S. drone, made by General Atomics, was hit near Hodeidah on Monday. The official said information could change and did not say if the drone was in international airspace.

The second official said the drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile fired from near Hodeida.

The comments by the officials confirm a claim by the Houthis that they had shot down a drone near the port city, read the report.

In November, another Mq-9 was shot down by the Houthis and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.

The Houthi militants said on Monday they had attacked the Rubymar cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was at risk of sinking, raising the stakes in their campaign to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop, Reuters reported.

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World

Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Israel on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood, and said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the “declaratory decision” to a vote in cabinet, which unanimously approved the measure, according to a statement.

Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly meeting that the move comes after “recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state.”

The war in Gaza that has raged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli communities is the latest in a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has rumbled on for seven decades and destabilised the Middle East.

Efforts to achieve a two-state solution – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel – have been stalled since 2014, read the report.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to clinch an even broader deal in the Middle East, that would include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The formal Israeli statement, according to Netanyahu’s office, reflects the fact that: “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”

“Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7th massacre will grant a huge, unprecedented reward to terrorism and prevent any future peace accord,” it said.

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