Sep 24, 2017 Last Updated 10:33 AM, Sep 22, 2017
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Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a category four storm as it nears Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 130mph (209km/h).

Hurricane force wind gusts are battering islands in Florida's south, the governor says, with the mainland due to be hit in the coming hours.

Water levels are already rising on the coast of the US state where a huge storm surge is expected.

At least 25 people died when Irma earlier hit several Caribbean islands.

In Florida, 6.3 million people - about 30% of the state's population - had been told to evacuate. But on Saturday, the state governor said it was now too late to leave for anyone remaining.

The National Hurricane Centre has issued warnings against "life-threatening" storm surges in the Florida Keys - a chain of small islands in Florida's south - as well as Tampa Bay and other coastal areas.

More than 200,000 homes in the state have been affected by power outages, with 164,000 outages in Miami Dade county alone, according to utilities company Florida Power & Light. 

Irma is predicted to hit the coast on Sunday morning, but the outer bands are already affecting the south of the state and central Miami is being lashed by heavy rain.

The Florida Keys have suffered some minor damage and are expected to bear the brunt of the storm in the coming hours.

"If you're in an evacuation zone, you've got to get to a shelter ... there's not many hours left", Florida Governor Rick Scott warned earlier.

He urged residents at home to "stay indoors and move to an interior room away from windows".

The western Gulf coast is expected to be worst affected, with cities such as Tampa and St Petersburg in the path of the storm.

The Tampa Bay area, with a population of about three million, has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

The United States Government has announced its decision to increase Malawi’s Tariff Rate Quota for sugar exports.

According to the US Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer, the US has made the decision in a bid to assist Malawi in increasing its exports.

She adds that the US remains committed to increasing trade between the two countries.

The development means that local sugar producers Illovo Sugar Malawi Limited, is expected to work on increasing production to meet the increased demand.

“Malawi exported $10.7 million worth of sugar to the United States in 2016, an increase of 25% from 2015. 

This quota increase for fiscal year 2017 could mean an additional $4 million worth of Malawian sugar exports to the United States. 

The United States remains committed to increasing trade between the United States and Malawi,” said Ambassador Palmer.

Currently the country’s sugar export quota stands at 10.5 thousand Metric Ton Raw Value (MTRV) which has been increased with an extra 4 MTRV.

Malawi exports sugar to several countries in the EU, the US and within the African region.

Responding to the development, Illovo Malawi Board Chairperson Gavin Dalgleish expressed pleasure with the news, adding that they are ready to supply to the US.

In the year 2016, the country exported sugar worth $10.7 Million.

Sugar is Malawi’s third largest export to the United States, following tobacco and tea.  Other significant exports include coffee, macadamia nuts, and apparel. 

Since 2013, sugar exports from Malawi to the United States have more than tripled, accounting for 14% of Malawi’s total exports to the United States.

Malawi exported $75.6 million worth of goods to the United States in 2016, while it imported $46.6 million from the United States.

Libya is the front line in Europe's struggle against illegal migration and terrorism, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says.

On a visit to the capital Tripoli, Mr Johnson pledged more than £9m to help tackle people trafficking and terrorism.

He agreed with Libya's prime minister that the EU should do more to help tackle the migration crisis.

It was Mr Johnson's second trip to Libya this year.

The North African country has been beset by chaos since Nato-backed forces overthrew long-serving ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, with rival governments forming and fears about the presence of so-called Islamic State (IS).

In the latest reported violence, the spokesman of Libya's self-styled army in the east of the country said 11 people had been killed at a checkpoint they controlled in southern Libya.

Ahead of Mr Johnson's visit, Fayyez Al-Sarraj, the head of Libya's UN-backed unity government, issued a warning that Europe faced a growing risk from terrorists unless it did more to help his country stem the massive tide of illegal migrants.

The UK foreign secretary said some of those who passed though Libya were already radicalised or could be involved in terrorism.

"Libya is the front line for many challenges which left unchecked can pose problems for us in the UK - particularly illegal migration and the threat from terrorism," he said.

"That's why it is so important that we work with the Libyan government and our partners to help bring stability to Libya, stopping it from becoming a fertile ground for terrorists, gun-runners and people traffickers in close proximity to Europe."

The aid package includes £4m to support the removal of mines and improvised explosive devices, particularly in the city of Sirte, a former IS stronghold from which the militants were removed by Libya's military earlier this year.

Mr Johnson also said Britain would help establish a form of electronic border to the south of Libya and offered more help to its coastguard.

He agreed with Mr Al-Sarraj that the EU should be doing more to help tackle Libya's migration crisis, and also met the new United Nations special representative in Libya, Ghassan Salame, urging the international community to unite around a new UN plan expected soon.

Fionna Smyth, Oxfam's head of humanitarian campaigns, said: "It is disturbing that Boris Johnson is talking about preventing people who are fleeing violence and destitution at home from leaving Libya.

"Research we conducted with people who fled through Libya found that all but one of the women questioned had suffered sexual exploitation and three quarters of people had witnessed murder or torture.

"Aid for people travelling through Libya is welcome but Britain should be helping them to find safety not trapping them in a country where they face violence and abuse."

 

Egypt has criticised the United States after it reportedly withheld $195m (£152m) in military aid and cut $96m in other aid over human rights concerns.

An Egyptian foreign ministry statement said the move - which has not yet been announced - reflected "poor judgement".

Shortly after, Egypt's president met Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, who is in Cairo for talks.

US officials were said to be unhappy President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently ratified a new law regulating NGOs.

The law states that NGOs are prohibited from conducting activities that "harm national security, public order, public morality or public health", strictly controls their funding, and gives the government the authority to monitor their activities.

Violations are punishable with sentences of one to five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 1,000,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,820 to $56,400).

Eight civil society organisations warned in June that the legislation ushered in "unprecedented levels of repression" and would criminalise the work of many NGOs in Egypt, making it impossible for them to function independently.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post cited US officials as saying that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had notified Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry by telephone of his decision to withhold $195m of the $1.3bn Egypt receives in military aid, and to reallocate to other countries $65.7 in additional military aid and $30m in economic aid.

The unspent money would be held in a bank account until Egypt showed some progress on "key priorities" such as human rights abuses and the law regulating NGOs, the officials added.

Egyptian officials gave the US assurances earlier this year that the NGO law would never take effect, according to Reuters news agency.

On Wednesday morning, the Egyptian foreign ministry issued a statement criticising Mr Tillerson's decision.

"Egypt sees this measure as reflecting poor judgement of the strategic relationship that ties the two countries over long decades and as adopting a view that lacks an accurate understanding of the importance of supporting Egypt's stability," it said.

A copy of the foreign minister's schedule sent out to journalists on Wednesday showed that he would not be meeting a US delegation led by Mr Kushner in Cairo, although the meeting did later go ahead.

President Sisi has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent since leading the military's overthrow of his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

The US government is not seeking a regime change in North Korea, the secretary of state says, amid tensions over Pyongyang's weapons programme.

"We're not your enemy," Rex Tillerson said, adding that the US wanted a dialogue at some point.

But a Republican senator said President Donald Trump had told him there would be a war with North Korea if its missile programme continued.

Pyongyang claimed its latest missile could hit the US west coast.

The second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, celebrated by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was the latest to be conducted in defiance of a United Nations ban.

"We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel," said Mr Tillerson, referring to the border between the Koreas.

"We're not your enemy, we're not your threat but you're presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond."

President Trump has repeatedly criticised China, which shares a land border with North Korea and is its closest economic ally, for not doing enough to stop Pyongyang's weapons programme.

However, Mr Tillerson took a more diplomatic approach, saying that "only the North Koreans are to blame for this situation".

"But," he added, "we do believe China has a special and unique relationship, because of this significant economic activity, to influence the North Korean regime in ways that no one else can."

In a separate development, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mr Trump told him that there would be a military conflict between the two countries if Pyongyang continued with its aim to develop a missile programme with the US in its range.

"There will be a war with North Korea over their missile programme if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM.

"He [Trump] has told me that, I believe him, and if I were China I would believe him too, and do something about it," he said in an interview with NBC's Today programme.

Mr Graham added: "If there's going to be a war... it will be over there. If thousands die, they're going to die over there. They're not going to die here. And he [Trump] has told me that to my face."

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