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Hawaii’s Mauna Loa starts to erupt, sending ash nearby

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HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has started to erupt for the first time in nearly four decades, prompting volcanic ash and debris to fall nearby, authorities said Monday.

The eruption began late Sunday night in the summit caldera of the volcano on the Big Island, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Early Monday, it said lava flows were contained within the summit area and weren’t threatening nearby communities.

“However, lava flows in the summit region are visible from Kona. There is currently no indication of any migration of the eruption into a rift zone,” the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in a statement. A rift zone is where the mountain is splitting apart, the rock is cracked and relatively weak and it’s easier for magma to emerge.

How long the volcano erupts and whether it could cause lava to flow to populated areas of the island is impossible to predict, said Miel Corbett, a USGS spokesperson.

“But I can tell you, we’re in constant communication right now with Hawaii Civil Defense, and they’re providing updates to community members,” she said.

Even though it noted there is no indication of lava exiting the summit, the civil defense agency said it has opened shelters in Kailua-Kona and Pahala because it has reports of of people self-evacuating along the South Kona coast.

“Multiple images have surfaced on social media indicating lava activity outside of the caldera. At this time, no lava migration into a rift zone has been confirmed,” according to a statement.

The USGS warned residents at risk from Mauna Loa lava flows should review their eruption preparations. Scientists had been on alert because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

Portions of the Big Island were under an ashfall advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, which said up to a quarter-inch (0.6 centimeters) of ash could accumulate in some areas.

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Mauna Loa, rising 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level, is the much larger neighbor to Kilauea volcano, which erupted in a residential neighborhood and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than Kilauea’s so when it erupts, its lava can flow much faster.

During a 1950 eruption, the mountain’s lava traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the ocean in less than three hours.

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Share debacle a rare setback for Indian tycoon Adani

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By Krutika Pathi in New Delhi

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian billionaire Gautam Adani grinned as he posed this week for photos with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu after acquiring one of the country’s main ports, in Haifa.

“I promise you that in the years to come, we will transform the skyline we see around us,” said Adani, his manner upbeat even as his business empire was losing billions. Investors have been dumping Adani shares for more than a week after U.S. short-selling firm Hindenburg Research put out a report alleging his businesses have engaged in fraud and stock price manipulation. The Adani group has denied this.

Before the debacle, Adani, 60, was Asia’s richest man and the third wealthiest in the world, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. Not anymore.

The massive losses are a rare setback for the coal mining tycoon from western India’s Gujarat state and raise questions about what lies ahead.

Expansion has been at the heart of Adani’s success story. The son of a middle-class family in the Gujarat capital, Ahmedabad, he quit college to become a diamond trader in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai. He returned home to join his brother in importing plastics before establishing Adani Enterprises in the 1980s, trading in everything from shoes to buckets.

Adani shifted to investing in ports, construction and coal mining as India opened up its economy in the 1990s. A new middle class emerged and the ambitious businessman placed bets on providing energy to serve them.

Adani’s first big project, Mundra Port, is now India’s largest commercial port and he is the country’s biggest private port operator. Within a decade, he also became India’s largest developer and operator of coal mines.

Today, Adani companies also operate airports in major cities, build roads, generate electricity, manufacture defense equipment, develop agricultural drones, sell cooking oil and run a media outlet. He has his eyes set on becoming the world’s largest renewable energy player by 2030.

Citing market volatility, late Wednesday his flagship Adani Enterprises scrapped a $2.5 billion share offering that, despite the bloodletting in the group’s shares and a 28% plunge that day in its own share price, had been oversubscribed.

In a video address Thursday, Adani said the share offering was canceled to “insulate investors from potential losses.”

“For me, the interest of my investors is paramount and everything else is secondary,” he said.

The share offering was seen as a test of investor confidence in the self-made industrialist, whose ascent has been celebrated as a symbol of India’s economic ambitions. The Adani Group said in a statement that canceling the offering would not “have any impact on our existing operations and future plans.”

The Adani Group said its balance sheet was “very healthy” and its history of servicing debt was “impeccable.”

Still, Brian Freitas, a New Zealand-based analyst with Periscope Analytics who has researched the Adani Group, said the collapse in share prices for India’s second-largest conglomerate may hinder its future plans for expansion.

“It’s going to be difficult for them to raise new money,” he said.

Adani shares are still losing value. Shares in Adani Enterprises tumbled 27% Thursday, while stock in six other Adani companies fell 5%-10%.

The tycoon, who favors a plain white shirt and dark trousers over fancy dress and is said to be affable and quiet spoken, slid from being the world’s third richest man to the 13th as his fortune sank to $72 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Prior to the Hindenburg report, his net worth was about $120 billion.

More vitally, the company is now without the funds it had hoped to raise in this week’s offering. Companies often launch such share offerings to finance growth while reducing debt.

“Thanks to the short-seller, Adani’s plans will get slowed down significantly,” said R.N. Bhaskar, a journalist who wrote a biography on Adani.

Analysts say that rapid expansion has largely been fueled by borrowing. The group’s debt stands at $30 billion, out of which $9 billion is from Indian banks, the group’s chief financial officer said recently.

After the stock rout of the past week, lenders may deem his group high risk and toughen their criteria for borrowing, like demanding higher interest rates or more collateral, said Freitas.

“Equity investors are going to be wary because the stock isn’t doing well — if they can’t raise equity, they will have to go to the debt market,” he added. “Given the situation, foreign lenders will think twice before lending any new money to Adani.”

Despite Adani’s longstanding ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow Gujarati, and other powerful politicians, the government has so far remained silent on his recent troubles even as pressure from the political opposition for an investigation into Adani’s situation grows.

In recent years, Adani has pumped money into sectors like agriculture, defense and renewable energy — all seen as high priorities for the Indian government.

Like Adani’s commitment to the port in Israel’s Haifa, many of the group’s overseas infrastructure projects, in countries such as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, have served as an Indian counterweight to rival China’s holdings.

The Haifa deal was a coup for India, located close to another port managed by the Shanghai International Port Group.

“India is working with great fervor with Israel on defense and technology, and Adani now has a port there. You think the Indian government can sniff at that?” said Bhaskar. “The thing is, you can’t wish away Adani — because he is indispensable at this point.”

He expects Adani to remain undaunted.

“The more challenging a situation gets, the more defiant and creative he becomes to overcome it,” Bhaskar said.

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Ex-UK leader Truss to urge tougher China stance in Tokyo

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By Sylvia Hui in London

LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss will join the former leaders of Australia and Belgium at a conference in Tokyo later this month to call for a tougher international approach to China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of lawmakers concerned about how democratic countries approach Beijing, said Friday that Truss will speak alongside former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Feb. 17 event in the Japanese Diet. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is also a European Parliament lawmaker, will attend as well.

Conference organizers hope the event would help spur more coordinated diplomacy on threats raised by China ahead of the next Group of Seven richest democratic countries’ summit, scheduled in May in Hiroshima.

Truss is expected to address growing concerns over Beijing’s threats to Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory. Morrison will call for more targeted sanctions against Chinese officials for serious human rights violations, while Verhofstadt will speak about the European Union’s role in maintaining international rules under pressure from Beijing.

“The scale of the challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China is such that we all need to rise above our differences and come together to defend our fundamental values and interests,” Verhofstadt said in a statement.

The three former leaders will address about 40 Japanese lawmakers as well as legislators from the U.K., Canada, the European Union and Taiwan. Senior Japanese ministers are also expected to attend.

Truss has kept out of the public eye since she quit as Conservative British prime minister in October after just 45 days in office, following an ill-conceived economic plan she unveiled that triggered a political and financial crisis.

As foreign secretary she was outspoken in criticizing China, advocating stronger ties between democracies so they can counter China and Russia more effectively. She had suggested that the U.K. should work with its allies to ensure Taiwan could defend itself against Chinese military aggression.

Her successor, current British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has rejected “grand rhetoric” against China and wants a more “pragmatic” relationship with Beijing. While he has called China’s growing authoritarianism a “systemic challenge,” he stopped short of describing China as a threat to British security and said the U.K. and its allies needed to engage Beijing in diplomacy.

Western countries are rethinking their relationship with Beijing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the U.S., Britain and the EU’s 27 member states have disagreed with each other over how to approach an increasingly assertive China.

In November, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was criticized by both his European partners and his own coalition government when he led a delegation of senior business leaders to visit Beijing.

Critics said the bilateral visit undermined unity among EU leaders, who discussed reducing their heavy economic dependence on China during a Brussels summit in October. While Scholz said there should be recognition that China was increasingly a competitor and systemic rival, he also warned against decoupling ties.

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