Khamis, 23 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Large blast heard in Cairo, smoke seen rising over city centre

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 08:55 PM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]CAIRO (Reuters) - A large blast was heard in Cairo on Friday and smoke was seen rising over the city centre, a Reuters witness said.

Canada police search for 30 missing elderly in retirement home fire

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 08:40 PM PST

L'ISLE-VERTE, Quebec (Reuters) - Police were sifting overnight through burned remains of a wooden, three-story old-age home in the eastern Canadian province of Quebec, searching for 30 elderly residents who were still missing after a fire killed at least five people.

Fanned by high winds, the fire early Thursday morning engulfed an older section of the Residence du Havre in the small community of L'Isle-Verte on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 230 km (140 miles) northeast of Quebec City.

The building only had a partial sprinkler system, according to a document filed by the residence. Acting Mayor Ginette Caron said many of the residents had used wheel chairs or walkers, while some had Alzheimer's disease.

Firefighters battled for five hours in temperatures as low as minus 22 Celsius (minus 7.6 Fahrenheit) to extinguish the blaze.

"The problem we face now is the weather conditions. To fight the fire, water had to be used, and that water has frozen," Quebec police spokesman Guy Lapointe told a briefing.

Police intend to work carefully, both to stay safe in the extremely difficult conditions and to ensure that the remains of potential victims remain intact, he added.

"In the next few hours, if all goes well, we'll begin to work on scene and, if the lighting we've brought in allows it, the objective is to work through the night," said Lapointe.

Police later raised the death toll to five from an initial three while maintaining the number of missing at 30.

About 20 people were rescued, some of whom were taken to a hospital. Police said not all the missing should be assumed to have died since some could be staying elsewhere or travelling with their families.

The fire broke out shortly after midnight (0500 GMT) and was extinguished about five hours later. More than half the residence was burned to the ground.

Witness Pascal Fillion told public broadcaster RDI that at 1 a.m. a large part of the building was already on fire, caused in part to the high winds.

"There was one person we saw, who they wanted to save, but he was on the top floor, and with the fire and the wind they weren't able to come any closer," Fillion said.

Video footage of the blaze showed huge sheets of flame leaping into the air.

According to a document filed with the Quebec health ministry, the residence was home to 52 people, 37 of whom were 85 or older. It had a maximum capacity of 60 people.

Undamaged parts of the building were covered in icicles and thick sheets of ice as temperatures dropped as low as minus 22 Celsius (minus 7.6 Fahrenheit).

One man described to RDI how his grandmother had called for help from a second-floor balcony and said efforts to reach her by ladder had failed.

"She died on the balcony," he said, his voice breaking.


The document filed with the Quebec health ministry said the residence had a partial sprinkler system. The residence's website said it had a sprinkler system, but gave no details.

RDI and the Globe and Mail newspaper said Plomberie St-Pie-X Inc, a plumbing company, had installed sprinklers in the newer part of the building when it was renovated in the early 2000s.

"The section that burned was not protected by a sprinkler system," Plomberie St-Pie-X Inc co-owner Etienne Desjardins told RDI. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact Roch Bernier or Irene Plante, listed as the owners of the residence.

Jean-Pierre Ouellet of the FTQ labour union told RDI that regulations for seniors' homes were not strict enough.

Agnes Maltais, labour minister for the Quebec provincial government, said that although those rules were gradually being tightened, privately owned seniors' residences were not currently required to install sprinklers.

That could change depending on the eventual results of a probe into Thursday's fire, she told reporters in Quebec City.

The residence's website says the building was built in 1997 and expanded in 2002, and that it had sections for people who were independent and semi-independent, and for those who needed more assistance.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said she was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy and sent several government ministers to the site to offer assistance.

According to Canadian Press, the worst-ever fire in a Canadian nursing home occurred in Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec in 1969, when 54 people died.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Eric Walsh and Ken Wills)

Thai court set to rule on whether February election goes ahead

Posted: 23 Jan 2014 07:05 PM PST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's Constitutional Court could rule on Friday whether a February 2 election can go ahead, though whatever it decides there is little sign of a quick end to the political crisis dragging down Southeast Asia's second biggest economy.

Anti-government firebrand Suthep Thaugsuban, who has called for a boycott of the election, told his whistle-blowing supporters at a rally on Thursday night to disrupt the vote if it does take place.

"I'm telling you now, you must not get ready to vote. You must not go because we will close every road," Suthep told the rally.

"I want you to know that the (anti-government movement) ... is ready in every province. There is no way this election will take place," he said.

The Constitutional Court deferred a ruling on Thursday whether the February vote can be postponed. The Election Commission says the country is too volatile to hold a general election now and that technicalities mean it is bound to result in a parliament with too few lawmakers to form a quorum.

The government says the decree to hold the election on that date has been signed by the king and cannot be changed.

Even if the main opposition party does compete, political analysts say Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would almost certainly win the vote, which she called to win a fresh mandate for her government in the face of the protests trying to push her from power.

The protests are the latest eruption of an eight-year-long tussle for power that in broad terms sets Bangkok's middle class and the royalist establishment that Suthep claims to represent against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin fled into exile in 2008 to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power, after being toppled by the army in 2006.

The protesters accuse him and his sister of corruption and nepotism and want a "people's council" to take over the running of the country to introduce large-scale, but so far vaguely specified, reforms.

The government has imposed a state of emergency that gives it sweeping powers to make arrests, set a curfew and prevent protests.

So far, it has made no moves to implement measures or disperse the thinning numbers of protesters who have blocked off some parts of the capital with their "Shutdown Bangkok" movement, now in its third month.

Most economists have cut growth forecasts Thailand this year and some companies are reviewing investment plans as a result of the political deadlock.

The protests have been mostly quiet this week after an explosion of violence at the weekend in which one man died and dozens of anti-government protesters were wounded. Nine people have died since the protests began in November.

The violence is the worst since 2010 when Suthep, at the time a deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end mass protests by pro-Thaksin supporters.

The army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 81 years of on-off democracy, has so far kept out of the fray.

The government has gone out of its way to avoid confrontation with the protesters, allowing them to close off a number of government offices. Its "red shirt" supporters have also largely kept away from the capital.

(Additonal reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Alan Raybould and Michael Perry)


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