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Japan marks fifth anniversary of Fukushima nuclear disaster

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TOKYO — Japan has paused to mark five years since an offshore earthquake spawned a monster tsunami that left about 18,500 people dead and sparked the worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century.

Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other participants at a national ceremony in Tokyo bowed their heads as did many residents across the affected region at 2:46pm (local time) — the exact moment on March 11, 2011, the magnitude 9.0 quake struck under the Pacific Ocean.

“Whenever I go to affected areas, I feel that the disaster is ongoing,” Mr Abe said at the memorial event, acknowledging the enormity of the task that remains even five years on.

“But step by step, reconstruction is steadily making progress.”

The massive earthquake unleashed a giant wall of water that swallowed schools and entire neighbourhoods, with unforgettable images spreading around the world of panicked residents fleeing to higher ground and vehicles and ships bobbing in the swirling waters of flooded towns.

The waves also swamped power supplies at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, causing reactor meltdowns that released radiation in the most dangerous nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 and which continues to leave some areas uninhabitable.

“I hope people will remember us, that lives of evacuees are still difficult in many ways, including financially,” Kazuko Nihei, 39, said at a memorial event in a Tokyo park.

“This event is for recalling the disaster and cooperation among us,” said Nihei, who evacuated to Tokyo from Fukushima with her two daughters and now leads self-help group for mothers from the region.

The situation remains volatile in Fukushima prefecture, where the nuclear plant suffered explosions that spread radioactive material into the surrounding countryside and ocean.

The nuclear crisis forced tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes, farms and fishing boats and at one point even led to discussions about possibly evacuating the capital area and its 30 million people.

AFP

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Maldives opposition legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wins presidency

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MALE — Maldives opposition legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has beaten incumbent Abdulla Yameen according to provisional results, the country’s Elections Commission says.

Results released by the Elections Commission showed Mr Solih securing 133,808 votes (58.3 percent) compared to the 95,526 for incumbent Abdulla Yameen. The voter turnout was over 88 per cent out of the 262,000-strong electorate.

The Maldives government has acknowledged the opposition’s victory after the vote on Sunday, a surprise defeat for President Abdulla Yameen who was widely expected to win.

There were no other candidates.

Mr Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Mr Yameen, but struggled for visibility with the electorate, with local media fearful of falling afoul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

“I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power,” Solih said on television, shortly after interim results from the country’s election commission.

“We have won this election with a comfortable majority,” Solih said.

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