JAKARTA, Indonesia

Ship full of migrants sinks; hundreds may be drowned

A wooden ship believed to be carrying more than 200 migrants, many of them from the Middle East, sank Saturday off Indonesia’s main island of Java, local media reported. Only 33 people had been rescued.

Police blamed the accident on overloading, telling the official news agency Antara that the vessel appeared to have been carrying more than twice its capacity.

One of the survivors, Esmat Adine, told Antara the ship started rocking from side to side, triggering widespread panic. Because people were tightly packed, they had nowhere to go, said the 24-year-old Afghan migrant.

“That made the boat even more unstable and eventually it sank,” he said. Adine said he and others survived by clinging to parts of the broken vessel until they were picked up by local fishermen.

He estimated that more than 40 children were on the ship.

Indonesia, a sprawling nation of 240 million people, has more than 18,000 islands and thousands of miles of coastline, making it a key transit point for smuggling migrants.

Those on board Saturday — apparently heading to Australia — were from Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. 

BEIRUT

Arab League issues deadline to Syria to let in observers

The Arab League has given Syria until Wednesday to allow observers into the country or else it will likely turn to the U.N. Security Council for action to try to end the deadly violence against regime opponents, Qatar’s prime minister said Saturday.

Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani said in Qatar that Arab foreign ministers will hold a “decisive and important” meeting in Cairo on Wednesday to decide on next steps. He said there is near unanimity on taking the Arab League’s plan to the Security Council in hopes the world body can bring more pressure to bear on Damascus to accept it.

Syria has demanded changes to the proposal, which calls for an end to the government’s crackdown.

“We hope that the brothers in Syria sign before that date,” Hamad said, referring to Wednesday’s meeting.

The violence continued Saturday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot and killed at least 20 people, most of them in the central province of Homs, a province that has seen intense protests and clashes since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 34 people were killed, including eight army defectors. It did not say where the defectors were killed, but there have been reports of clashes in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The United Nations has been waiting for word from the Arab League before moving ahead with a resolution on Syria. A clear nod from Syria’s Arab neighbors could ease Russian and Chinese opposition to sanctions. Both nations have veto power at the Security Council.

The Arab plan calls for Syria to halt its crackdown, hold talks with the opposition and allow in Arab observers to ensure compliance with the deal. It does not call for foreign military intervention, as happened in Libya. 

— From news service reports