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257 people killed in Algerian military plane crash

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ALGIERS — A total of 257 people were killed, most of them military, after an Algerian military plane crashed near an airbase outside the capital Algiers, according to officials.

The plane came down near Boufarif airport shortly after taking off. The dead include the plane’s 10 crew and 247 passengers, most of them members of the armed forces and their families, the defence ministry said.

Television footage showed crowds and emergency vehicles massing around the smoking and flaming wreckage near Boufarik airport southwest of Algiers.

A line of white body bags could be seen on the ground next to what media said was a Russian Ilyushin transport plane.

Ten crew and other people described as family members also died, and a number of survivors were being treated at an army hospital, the ministry added.

A member of Algeria’s ruling FLN party told the private Ennahar TV station the dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of neighboring Western Sahara – a territory also claimed by Morocco in a long-running dispute.

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The plane was heading to Tindouf, an area on Algeria’s border with Western Sahara, but crashed on the airport’s perimeter, Algeria’s defence ministry said.

Tindouf is home to thousands of refugees from the Western Sahara standoff, many of them Polisario supporters.

U.N. attempts to broker a settlement have failed for years in the vast desert area, which has contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory while Polisario established its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic there.

Algeria’s defence ministry issued a statement expressing condolences to families of the victims.

An Air Algerie flight crashed in northern Mali carrying 116 passengers and crew, nearly half of them French, en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria in July 2014.

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China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline

Thompson Reuters

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BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.

State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.

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The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.

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