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story.lead_photo.caption Firefighters work to extinguish some of the vehicles left in flames Wednesday after an explosion at a chemical plant in Zhangjiakou, China.

Blast near China plant kills 22 people

BEIJING -- An explosion outside a chemical plant in northeastern China early Wednesday killed at least 22 people and destroyed scores of vehicles, in the latest challenge to efforts to boost industrial safety in the world's second-largest economy.

The blast occurred just after midnight at a loading area next to the plant operated by the Hebei Shenghua Chemical Industry Co. Ltd., according to a statement from the Zhangjiakou city government. Zhangjiakou is one of the Chinese cities that will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Another 22 people were injured, and 38 trucks and 12 passenger cars were destroyed by fire, the statement said.

"We request that citizens do not go to the site to watch in order to avoid disrupting recovery efforts," it said.

A city government official who gave only his surname, Gao, said the accident's cause was still under investigation and that no other information could be provided.

Investigators suspect a truck carrying the highly flammable compound ethane for use by a nearby chemical factory exploded as it was passing the Shenghua plant, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The flames then spread to other trucks but not to the Shenghua complex itself, which continued to operate, the report said.

138 wildfires rage in Australian state

BRISBANE, Australia -- Large swaths of northeast Australia endured unprecedented fire danger on Wednesday, with 138 wildfires across Queensland state forcing schools to be closed and thousands of homes to be evacuated, officials said.

The fire danger was rated as catastrophic in areas of central Queensland, the first time the highest danger rating had been applied to the state, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

She said 34 schools had been closed in the most threatened regions. She warned families not to go out, to keep together and to prepare to leave if needed.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said homes had been destroyed since Saturday in areas where the fire danger remained too high for teams to enter and assess damage. She said she expected that fewer than 10 homes have been lost so far.

High winds, dry air and severe heatwave conditions were combining to make the fire danger extreme, Carroll said.

Briton rejects Turkey's extradition bid

A British judge on Wednesday rejected the Turkish government's request to extradite a prominent critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling the case "politically motivated."

Judge John Zani refused to extradite Hamdi Akin Ipek, 54, a media tycoon whose newspapers and television stations were seized by the Turkish leadership after an attempted coup against Erdogan in 2016.

The case marked the first time an English court was asked to rule on the legality of a Turkish government crackdown on those linked to the exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the coup but has denied it.

"I am satisfied that this is a politically motivated prosecution," Zani said during a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court.

Zani said returning Ipek to Turkey would risk violating the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that no one should be subjected to torture or punishment that is "inhuman or degrading."

The Turkish government claims Ipek and his Koza-Ipek group financed terrorism and produced propaganda. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul called the court's rejection of Ankara's extradition request "unacceptable."

Hold military chief, Sri Lanka judge says

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A Sri Lankan court on Wednesday ordered the detention of the country's top military officer for investigation in connection with the abduction and disappearance of 11 young people, including ethnic minority Tamils, during the country's civil war that ended nine years ago.

Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake ordered that Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Ravindra Wijegunaratne be held until Dec. 5, saying he could obstruct the investigation because of the key post he holds. Wijegunaratne was the former chief of the navy.

Wijegunaratne has been accused of giving refuge to former navy Lt. Cmdr. Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, who is the main suspect in the abduction of the 11 young people in 2008-09. They are believed to have been murdered while being held for ransom at a naval base.

Wijegunaratne is also accused of helping Hettiarachchi evade police. Hettiarachchi was arrested in August, and several other navy troops have been detained in the alleged scheme to make money.

A large number of people were reported missing during the civil war that ended in 2009.

Many were abducted by government paramilitary personnel over alleged links to the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels. Rebels also abducted civilians as forced conscripts. Many people who gave themselves up to the military in the final stages of the war are also unaccounted for.

Photo by AP/RUKMAL GAMAGE
Police escort Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Ravindra Wijegunaratne from a court Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He is under investigation in the disappearance of 11 young people.

A Section on 11/29/2018

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