- Dozens arrested as Thai police raid protest site
- Student tragedy in S. Korea as building collapse kills 10
- One dead, 77 hurt in riot at PNG immigration centre
Posted: 17 Feb 2014 06:19 PM PST
BANGKOK: Dozens of Thai opposition protesters were arrested Tuesday during a police operation to seize back besieged state buildings in the capital Bangkok, sparking a tense standoff near the government headquarters.
It was the first time that so many protesters have been detained since mass rallies seeking to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra began more than three months ago.
About 100 demonstrators were arrested at an energy ministry complex on charges of violating a state of emergency, National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut told AFP.
"There was no resistance," he said. "They were overwhelmed by the police forces."
Riot police with batons, shields and helmets were also deployed near the government headquarters, after protesters returned to areas around the complex following a similar police operation on Friday to reclaim the building.
The two sides were locked in a tense confrontation across barbed wire barricades, with demonstrators rejecting a police demand to leave the area around Yingluck's offices within one hour.
"The government cannot work here anymore," said a spokesman for the anti-government movement, Akanat Promphan.
"The arrests don't affect us. The will of the people is still strong. The government is trapped. It has no way forward."
On Monday, demonstrators poured buckets of cement onto a sandbag wall in front of a gate to Government House.
The protesters are demanding Yingluck resign and hand power to a temporary, unelected government that would carry out reforms to tackle corruption and alleged misuse of public funds before new elections are held.
Years of rival protests
Thailand has been periodically rocked by mass demonstrations staged by rival protest groups since a controversial military coup in 2006 that ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra - Yingluck's brother.
Eleven people have died and hundreds of others have been injured in political violence linked to the latest round of rallies, which have been targeted by a series of grenade attacks and drive-by shootings by unidentified perpetrators.
Demonstrators have blocked major intersections in a self-styled "shutdown" of the capital, although attendance has dropped sharply compared with December and January when at the peak tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of people took to the streets.
So far the authorities have not announced any plan to clear those road junctions in the retail and commercial centre.
Yingluck's government held a general election on February 2 in an attempt to defuse tensions, but the opposition boycotted the vote, saying it would not end the kingdom's long-running political crisis.
Demonstrators prevented 10,000 polling stations from opening in the election, affecting several million people.
Yingluck's opponents say she is a puppet for her brother Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who fled overseas in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.
Pro-Thaksin parties have triumphed at the ballot box for more than a decade, helped by strong support in the northern half of the kingdom.
But many southerners and Bangkok residents accuse Thaksin and his sister of using taxpayers' money to buy the support of rural voters through populist policies such as a controversial rice farm subsidy scheme.
Thaksin is also hated by many in the kingdom's royalist establishment who see him as a threat to the monarchy, at a time of anxiety over the health of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Some observers say that behind the street protests, a clash is unfolding over who will be running the country when the revered but ailing monarch's more than six-decade reign comes to an end.
The deployment of security forces has revived memories of a military crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" rallies in 2010 under the previous government that left dozens dead.
Yingluck's government has so far been reluctant to use force to disperse the latest protests while the military - traditionally a staunch backer of the anti-Thaksin establishment - has said that it does not want to be drawn into the standoff.
At the same time the army chief has refused to rule out another coup, while the United States has urged the military not to seize power again. -AFP
Posted: 17 Feb 2014 05:32 PM PST
SEOUL: At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured when an auditorium packed with students collapsed at a resort near the southern South Korean city of Gyeongju, officials said Tuesday.
More than 560 college students participating in a freshman orientation were believed to have been attending a concert in the building when the roof caved in on Monday - apparently under the weight of heavy snow - around 9:15 pm (1215 GMT).
"Ten people are confirmed dead, two were seriously injured and 101 others suffered bruises and cuts", a spokesman from the Ministry of Security and Public Adminstration told a press briefing in Seoul.
All the students were believed to be accounted for, but rescuers were still searching the site Tuesday morning for anyone still trapped inside.
Nine of the dead were college students, police said, adding that an event organiser was also killed.
More than 1,400 rescuers and workers, backed by heavy equipment, worked throughout the night under arc lights to clear the debris and snowfall to reach the victims.
Fire officials said the collapse appeared to have been caused by the weight of the snow which had piled up on the roof.
The auditorium was a pre-engineered building, assembled with rigid frames and side walls - of a type normally used for storage houses and aviation hangars.
Shouting and screaming
"The ceiling came crashing down at the front near the stage," one student told the YTN news channel.
"Then pandemonium broke out and everyone started rushing towards the exits, shouting and screaming," he added.
Footage broadcast on YTN and pictures taken at the site by the Yonhap news agency showed fire officials searching by torchlight for people trapped in the twisted metal of the buckled building.
In one shot, rescuers could be seen trying to free a young woman pinned by a metal sheet.
The ground around the building was covered with a thick blanket of snow, which continued to fall throughout the night, hampering the rescue efforts.
The auditorium was part of the Mauna Ocean Resort, which had been hosting the freshman orientation event for close to 1,000 students from a foreign language college in the southern city of Busan.
Fire officials said they had difficulty reaching the resort which was in an area that has experienced unusually heavy snowfall of more than 50 centimetres (20 inches) in the last week.
The resort owner, Kolon business group, issued a public apology over the disaster, promising full compensation and support for the victims.
Yonhap cited police officials as saying they would open an investigation once the rescue work had been completed.
The investigation is likely to focus on whether snow had been cleared from the roof of the auditorium and whether the building was an authorised structure that met safety standards.
The city of Gyeongju is a popular tourism spot for both Korean and international travellers. Once the capital of the Silla kingdom, it boasts numerous historical sites and is located at the southern fringe of the Taebaek mountains.
The Mauna Ocean Resort is a sprawling holiday complex nestled on a mountainside complete with holiday villas and a golf course. -AFP
Posted: 17 Feb 2014 04:12 PM PST
SYDNEY: One person was killed and 77 injured as tensions boiled over during a second night of violence at an Australian immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, officials said Tuesday.
Thirty-five asylum-seekers broke out of the same facility on Sunday evening, with several hurt, as unrest flared about their fate under the Australian government's hardline policies.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not be drawn on exactly what happened on Monday but said claims that locals and police broke into the facility were "not correct".
But he did admit there had been a rolling series of largely peaceful protests, starting a few weeks ago, that culminated in the violence of the last two nights.
"The news of a death is a great tragedy," he said, adding that the man died from a head injury en route to hospital.
"This is a tragedy but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk."
Of the 77 injured, 13 were in serious condition, including one with a fractured skull and another suffering gunshot wounds to the buttock. They are both due to be evacuated to Australia for treatment.
Manus Island is one of two remote Pacific camps used by Canberra in its punitive offshore detention policy.
Under the scheme, aimed at deterring people-smugglers, any asylum-seeker arriving by boat or intercepted at sea is transferred to Manus or Nauru for processing and permanent resettlement outside Australia.
Morrison said that despite the unrest, the immigration centre had not been destroyed, with most of the injuries happening after the asylum-seekers "breached internal and external perimeter fences". He said it was possible some were still missing.
'Fled for their lives'
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said tension with groups of locals, who oppose the camp, had been building throughout the day and that the attacks began after power was cut to the detention centre.
He claimed the perimeter fences were breached, after staff were evacuated, by locals armed with machetes, pipes, sticks and stones who carried out "savage attacks".
"If there are asylum-seekers outside the perimeter fence it's because they've fled for their lives late last night from those attacks," Rintoul told ABC television.
"It must be clear now that asylum-seekers cannot live safely on Manus Island. They should never have been taken there. Asylum-seekers must be brought to Australia," he added.
This account was denied by Morrison, who said security contractor G4S "have advised that there was no one who came from outside and sought to disrupt or attack people on the inside which lead to the perimeter fence being breached".
Morrison also rejected reports that PNG police were involved and cautioned against "unsubstantiated reports that may be put into the public domain".
"We don't know what occurred outside the centre and that obviously will be the subject of an investigation into that person's death," he said.
The riots follow a tense meeting between detainees and officials from Papua New Guinea's immigration and citizenship authority (ISCA) to discuss their fate if they were found to have a genuine refugee claim.
They were informed they would be resettled in PNG and "a third country option will not be offered".
"They will have frustrations about being in a centre they don't wish to be in because they wanted a very different outcome than being in either Manus Island or Nauru," Morrison said.
"There will be those who will seek to take down our policies, to take down our processing centres, to try and destroy the regime we have put in place."
The United Nations refugee agency has condemned the Manus and Nauru camps as "harsh" facilities that "impact very profoundly on the men, women and children housed there". -AFP
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