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Isis tells Raqqa residents to evacuate over fears nearby dam will collapse

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Written by Maritime First
  • As China, New Zealand agree to boost already-close trade ties

Islamic State has ordered residents of Raqqa to evacuate after reports that a nearby dam weakened by US-led coalition airstrikes could collapse, activists have reported.

Isis said air attacks had weakened the Tabqa dam on the Euphrates river, 25 miles (40km) west of Raqqa, and the water level behind it was rising. The militant group captured the city from Syrian rebels in 2014 and it is the capital of Isis’s self-styled caliphate.

Civilians began to leave at midday on Sunday, according to activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an opposition-run monitoring group, reported that the Isis-held dam was out of service for unknown reasons.

The two groups rely on local contacts to smuggle information out of Isis territory. The coalition fighting the militants could not immediately be reached for comment.

The reports from Raqqa came as a leading Syrian opposition group called on the US-led coalition to stop targeting residential areas in and around Raqqa.

The Syrian National Coalition, which is taking part in peace talks in Geneva, said it was increasingly concerned about civilian casualties.

SNC said it believed that coalition forces were behind an airstrike that killed at least 30 civilians sheltering in a school outside Raqqa on 21 March. The coalition has said it is investigating.

The US has provided substantial air and ground support to Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces closing in on Raqqa and the dam.

SOHR said coalition airstrikes killed 89 civilians in Raqqa province in the past week, including 35 at Badya school in the village of al-Mansoura.

In the meantime, China and New Zealand ramped up their cooperation on Monday, pledging to expand their existing free trade agreement into what visiting Premier Li Keqiang called China’s “most advanced” with a developed country.

The two governments also promised to work together on a Chinese trade and business expansion strategy that Beijing calls “One Belt, One Road”.

In Wellington, Li signed nine pacts with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, who said talks to upgrade their free trade agreement (FTA) – in effect since 2008 – would begin on April 25.

The upgrade would produce an arrangement of the “most advanced level” between the nations and “the first of its kind between China and a developed country,” Li said.

In a column published on Monday in media “To New Zealand, with love,” Li wrote that rising international instability and uncertainty “have made it more important for China and New Zealand to work together to turn challenges into opportunities”.

Guardian with additional report from NAN

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