- Gas explosion levels building, injures 18 in U.S.
- Nicaragua's Ortega expects Colombia to respect border ruling
- Middle East nuclear talks will not occur next month - U.S.
Posted: 23 Nov 2012 07:38 PM PST
(Reuters) - An explosion triggered by a gas leak destroyed a strip club in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, on Friday, injuring 18 people, although none seriously, authorities said.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the building, a Scores Gentlemen's Club, exploded at about 5:25 p.m. as gas company workers, police officers and firefighters were responding to a leak in the area.
The 18 injured people included nine firefighters, four Columbia Gas of Massachusetts employees and two police officers, Sarno said.
"Through God's mercy, we are not aware of any fatalities," Sarno told reporters, adding none of the victims suffered life-threatening injuries.
The club had been evacuated before the explosion due to the gas leak, which may have saved the lives of patrons and employees who had been inside, said Thomas Walsh, a spokesman for the city.
Images on a local CBS affiliate showed buildings with shattered windows, debris scattered in the street, and emergency services entering the area.
Witnesses described to local media a massive explosion that shook the ground and produced a huge cloud of smoke. The explosion was powerful enough to be felt in neighbouring towns, Sarno told reporters.
At least 15 to 20 buildings in Springfield's downtown section sustained extensive damage in the blast, including a six-story residential building where a number of units have been condemned due to damage from the explosion, Walsh said.
The city established an emergency shelter to accommodate residents displaced by the blast, Sarno said.
Officials said state and local investigators were trying to determine the cause of the gas leak and subsequent explosion.
Last year, Springfield was hit with a tornado that cut a path several blocks wide, ripping apart trees and damaging buildings. Springfield has a population of about 150,000 people.
(Reporting By Tim Gaynor, Alex Dobuzinskis and Nick Carey; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 23 Nov 2012 07:37 PM PST
(Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega expressed confidence on Friday that Colombia would recognize an international court ruling this week that grants Nicaragua jurisdiction over resources-rich Caribbean waters near a Colombian archipelago.
Ortega did not mention Bogota's announcement on Wednesday that it would keep navy ships in the disputed waters until the International Court of Justice rules on a possible appeal from the country.
"I am sure that our brothers, the Colombian people, the Colombian government, and the president of Colombia (Juan Manuel Santos) will recognize the International Court of Justice's decision because there is no other way forward," Ortega said at a student event in Managua.
The ICJ ruled on Monday that a cluster of disputed small islands in the western Caribbean belonged to Colombia and not to Nicaragua but drew a demarcation line in favour of Nicaragua in the nearby waters.
The court said the territorial waters extending out from the seven islets, which are nearer Nicaragua's coast than Colombia's, should not cut into Nicaragua's continental shelf. The ruling reduced the expanse of ocean belonging to Colombia.
The decision, which is binding, increases the size of Nicaragua's continental shelf and economic exclusion zone in the Caribbean, which would give it access to rich underwater oil and gas deposits as well as fishing rights.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos rejected the changes to the border, which effectively put some islands outside of the rest of the archipelago, saying the ruling had "omissions, mistakes, excesses, inconsistencies, that we cannot accept".
A Colombian navy commander also said he received instructions from the government to "maintain the sovereignty of Colombia's maritime jurisdiction, as it has historically been known."
On Thursday, Colombia's foreign minister said her country should consider withdrawing from a 1948 treaty that forces Colombia to abide by any of the court's rulings.
But experts have said that Colombia's withdrawal from the "Bogota Pact" would not have retroactive effect, and that it would still be obliged to comply with the ruling.
In 2007, the court, which is based in The Hague, ruled in a long-running dispute between the two countries that the three larger islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina belonged to Colombia.
The ruling on Monday related to seven other islets and the associated offshore rights surrounding them. The three larger islands have been controlled by Colombia since Nicaragua ceded them in a 1928 treaty.
The cluster of islands is more than 437 miles (700 km) from the Colombian coast and 125 miles (200 km) from Nicaragua.
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 23 Nov 2012 07:08 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Talks planned for next month on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East will not take place, the United States said on Friday, a development likely to anger Arab states but please Israel.
The State Department announced that the mid-December conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, would not occur and did not make clear when, or whether, it would take place.
Earlier this month, diplomats told Reuters that the talks were likely to be postponed, rather than cancelled outright.
"As a co-sponsor of the proposed conference ... the United States regrets to announce that the conference cannot be convened because of present conditions in the Middle East and the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Nuland said that "a deep conceptual gap persists in the region" on how to handle regional security and arms control, adding that "outside states cannot impose a process on the region any more than they can dictate an outcome."
The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a WMD-free Middle East was agreed to at a May 2010 conference of 189 parties to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
The United States, feared the conference, which was to be held in Finland, could be used as a forum to bash Israel, a concern likely to have increased after eight days of fierce Israeli-Palestinian fighting that ended with a ceasefire on Wednesday.
Iran and Arab states often say Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal poses a threat to Middle East peace and security. Israel and Western powers see Iran as the main nuclear proliferation threat. Tehran denies any atom bomb ambitions.
The State Department said it would keep working to try to bring about a meeting, adding such a gathering must take into account the security of all the states in the region and operate on the basis of consensus - effectively guaranteeing Israel, and everyone else, a veto.
"We would not support a conference in which any regional state would be subject to pressure or isolation," Nuland said, in a clear reference to U.S. concerns that other participants might gang up on Israel.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East could not be a reality until there was broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its nuclear program.
Like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, Israel has never signed the NPT. It neither confirms nor denies having nuclear arms, although non-proliferation and security analysts believe it has several hundred atomic weapons.
Even if the talks eventually occur, Western diplomats and others expect little progress any time soon due to the deep-rooted animosities in the region, notably the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israeli concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
The Islamic state is in a stand-off with world powers that suspect it is seeking the means to produce nuclear arms. Israel has not ruled out military action against Iranian nuclear sites.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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