Ahad, 18 Mei 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Fire on Colombia church bus fire kills 31 children, one adult

Posted: 18 May 2014 09:15 PM PDT

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Thirty-one children and one adult were killed in Colombia on Sunday when fuel exploded on a broken-down bus returning from a church event, an emergency response coordinator said.

The charred bodies of victims were being identified using dental records in Barranquilla, the nearest city to Fundacion town where the accident happened, said Major Eduardo Velez, coordinator of Magdalena province's emergency response corps.

Eighteen people managed to escape and were being treated at hospitals in the region.

"There was a canister of gasoline inside the vehicle. The fire spread very fast," Velez told Reuters.

He said the fire started after the driver attempted to start the faulty bus by pouring fuel into the engine which he accessed through the floor of the cabin. The driver escaped unharmed and was being questioned by police, he said.

The bus was owned by a private transport company and was used during the week to took children to and from school.

President Juan Manuel Santos was traveling to Fundacion to console relatives of the victims.

(Reporting by Peter Murphy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Robert Birsel)

South Korea's Park, sorry over ferry disaster, breaks up coast guard

Posted: 18 May 2014 08:50 PM PDT

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye formally apologised on Monday for a ferry disaster last month that killed about 300 passengers, mostly school children, and said she would break up the coast guard because it had failed in its rescue mission.

Park has been hit hard by an angry nation-wide outcry over the government's response to South Korea's worst civilian maritime disaster in 20 years and the seemingly slow and ineffective rescue operation.

Polls show support for Park has dropped by more than 20 points since the April 16 disaster.

"I apologise to the nation for the pain and suffering that everyone felt, as the president who should have been responsible for the safety and lives of the people," Park said in a televised national address, her first since the ferry Sewol capsized and sank with 476 passengers and crew on board.

At least 286 people were killed and 18 remain missing. Only 172 people were rescued, with the rest presumed to have drowned.

Of the passengers, 339 were children and their teachers on a field trip from a high school on the outskirts of Seoul. Park fought back sobs as she remembered some of the teenagers who perished while trying to help each other.

She vowed sweeping reforms to improve oversight, as well as tough punishment for bureaucrats and businesses whose negligence endangers public safety.

"A 20-year-old vessel was bought and refurbished to add excessive capacity, then it was loaded with much more cargo than allowed with a false reporting on weight, but not a single person in the position to supervise stopped any of it," Park said.

She singled out structural problems within the coast guard as the main reason why there was such a high casualty toll from an accident that played out on national television as the vessel gradually sank with most of the passengers trapped inside.

"Had there been an immediate and proactive rescue operation after the accident, we would have been able to reduce the casualties," Park said.

The coast guard's rescue duties will be transferred to a national emergency safety agency to be set up and the national police will take over its investigative function, she said.


Some of the crew, including the captain, were caught on videotape abandoning ship while the children were repeatedly told to stay put in their cabins and await further orders.

Park, who is in the second year of a single five-year term, has apologised in person to many family members of the victims but her administration has faced continued criticism and nationwide anger for its handling of the disaster.

Park's public support has dropped to 46 percent, from 70 percent before the accident, according to a recent poll. Her formal apology and the blueprint for bureaucratic reform have been criticised for coming too late, while her decision to break up the coast guard has also been questioned.

"Although we need to integrate government functions on safety and disaster management, dissolving the coast guard all of sudden can make more problems that may be difficult to fix," said Professor Lee Jun-han of Incheon National University.

Park said the coast guard had not only failed in its search and rescue duty but that, in its current form, it would be unable to prevent another large-scale disaster.

"The coast guard continued to get bigger in size but did not have enough personnel and budget allocated for maritime safety, and training for rescue was very much insufficient," she said.

All 15 surviving crew members were indicted last week, including the captain and three senior crew members on homicide charges. The remaining 11 crew were indicted for negligence.

The prosecution says the ferry was structurally defective after a remodeling to add capacity and was massively overloaded with cargo. A sharp turn then caused it to list and capsize.

The Sewol had been on a supposedly routine journey from the mainland port of Incheon south to the holiday island of Jeju.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Sohee Kim; Editing by Choonsik Yoo and Paul Tait)

Mali sends troops to retake town from Tuareg separatists

Posted: 18 May 2014 07:56 PM PDT

KIDAL Mali (Reuters) - Mali sent in troops on Sunday to retake Kidal from Tuareg separatists after six government workers and two civilians were killed, according to the United Nations, during an attack on the regional governor's office.

At least eight soldiers were also killed and around 30 civil servants captured by rebels during clashes that broke out while Prime Minister Moussa Mara was on a visit to the northern town.

A spokesman for the separatists denied that anyone had been killed inside the government building.

Gunfire had already broken out before Mara's arrival early on Saturday and he was forced to take shelter in an army base.

"In light of this declaration of war, the Republic of Mali is henceforth at war," Mara told a Reuters reporter inside the base overnight.

He told a news conference on Sunday after he moved to Gao, another city in the north, that the government had already sent troops, including special forces, to retake Kidal.

"Reinforcements are on the way to Kidal. The objective is to totally retake Kidal," a senior military source also told Reuters, asking not to be named.

Mara was visiting the town, a stronghold of Tuareg separatists, for the first time since his appointment last month as part of efforts to revive long-delayed talks with northern armed groups.

Mali was thrown into turmoil in 2012 when al Qaeda-linked Islamists took advantage of a Tuareg-led rebellion and seized control of the country's north before a French-led military operation, known as Serval, drove them back last year.

The government and a grouping of armed groups including the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which broke with the Islamists ahead of the French offensive, signed an agreement to hold talks over autonomy last year.

But the clashes, the most serious pitting the government against Tuareg fighters since the French intervention, now threaten to sink efforts to find a peaceful solution to the long cycle of rebellions in the West African nation's desert north.

The United States condemned the violence, saying it undermined the country's fragile peace.

"We call for the immediate release of all hostages, and urge all parties to refrain from violence and from any acts that place civilians at risk," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "The way to resolve these issues is through an inclusive and credible negotiation process, not through violence and intimidation."

The flare-up in a trouble spot many had hoped had been brought under control comes as West African nations and their international partners are redoubling efforts elsewhere to contain Islamist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.

France, in particular, is seeking to redeploy part of its force in Mali to tackle the regional threat.

MINUSMA, a nearly 13,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, is rolling out, but is not yet at full strength.


Mara criticised both the French and U.N. forces for allowing the attack to take place.

"The very least we'd expected from MINUSMA and Serval was that they'd ensure the governor's office wasn't attacked," he said.

MINUSMA said on Sunday that 21 U.N. police officers were injured in the clashes while providing security for the prime minister's visit to Kidal. Two suffered serious gunshot wounds.

"This barbaric crime is totally unacceptable and those responsible must answer for their actions," Albert Koenders, the head of MINUSMA, said of the killings in the governor's office. "An inquiry must be carried out quickly in order to verify the facts and bring the responsible parties to justice."

A spokesman for the MNLA, which claimed control of Kidal on Sunday, had earlier said the rebels were preparing to hand over the government workers they were holding.

"There were no murders," Attaye Ag Mohamed told Reuters by telephone from the town. "Those killed at the governor's office were killed in the exchange of gunfire or mortar explosions."

He said the MNLA was also holding 15 soldiers it considered to be prisoners of war.

Malian forces suffered 25 wounded in addition to the eight dead, according to the Defence Ministry, while 28 attackers were killed and 62 wounded.

A Malian military source said Saturday's gun battle erupted after MNLA fighters in two trucks attacked an army checkpoint in front of the governor's office.

The MNLA's Ag Mohamed rejected the government's version of Saturday's events and said the army attacked first, opening fire on the group's barracks following pro-independence protests in the town.

He said the rebels had killed 19 government soldiers and suffered no losses of their own.

"The situation is calm right now. We're in position. We're not scared of the Malian army. We're ready," Ag Mohamed said.

(Additional reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Joe Bavier, and Peter Cooney in Washington; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams and Eric Walsh)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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