Monday, 13 April 2015

Iraq exhumes 164 bodies from Tikrit graves

Iraq has so far exhumed the remains of 164 victims believed to have been killed by extremists in mass graves in Tikrit, AFP reported Monday.

The human rights ministry said search teams have discovered the bodies in four mass graves over the past week in the city formerly controlled by Daesh (ISIS).

Ministry spokesman Kamel Amin told AFP evidence shows the victims were from the Speicher massacre, during which up to 1,700 people were abducted by Daesh last year. Amin said authorities still need to confirm identifies by DNA testing.

The remains were found in former president Saddam Hussein's palace complex, where officials said there are ten mass graves, with three more discovered right outside.

Iraqi forces and Shiite paramilitary recently reclaimed the Tikrit area from Daesh after a month-long mass operation against the extremists.

Monday 13 April 2015

continue reading

Living memorial to victims of bridge disaster 170 years on

Children in Victorian dress will create a poignant living memorial to those that perished in Great Yarmouth’s suspension bridge disaster.

The powerful tribute will mark 170 years since nearly 80 people lost their lives after a crowd of excited children crammed onto the perilous structure to see a clown bob along the River Bure, pulled by geese.

Organiser Julie Staff said that having a throng of people dressed in the clothes of the time would help to convey the scale of the disaster, bringing to life the numbers involved and the age of the victims who were mostly aged between five and 13.

Jostling to see the advertising stunt the bridge gave way and 79 people lost their lives, nearly 60 of them young children.

The tragedy however went scandalously unremembered in the town despite being the largest recorded loss of life in a single tragedy, casting a shadow over its character.

The 57-year-old grandmother believes she has gone a long way to right that wrong – unveiling a memorial to the victims two years ago.

Now preparations are gathering pace for a fitting anniversary which will mingle joy and sadness, as it did on that fateful day.

Rather than being morbid she hoped there would be a festival atmosphere mixed with reflection.

She is planning a Victorian day with stalls, music and crafts at the memorial starting with a parade to the Market Place where people will pause in memory of those that died.

In the evening candle bags decorated by youngsters at St Nicholas Priory Junior School, with each one bearing a victim’s name, will be lit and line the river bank.

Flower petals will then be scattered into the river accompanied by a violinist.

Mrs Staff said that what shocked her most when she first heard about the story was the lack of respect.

With most of the children coming from poor families it was up to their relatives to scoop up their lifeless bodies and take them home.

Few could afford a proper burial and in the end the bridge owners paid for many of the victims to be buried in two mass graves of 30.

“I never really knew about what happened properly and my husband who has lived here all his life never knew a thing. When I looked into the story it was the lack of respect that struck me,” she said.

“They were buried in mass graves and their families told they were being punished because people could not read or write. When I unveiled the memorial I felt it was all put right. It is nice to involve the school, they will remember and carry it on.”

“It would be nice to have a bit of fun just as it was on that day,” Mrs Staff added. “But I do want to make it as Victorian as possible and a happy occasion, not morbid. The visual side will make it more powerful and I hope people will join in on the day.

“I am trying to include as many people as possible and I hope it is going to be a nice day.”

Monday 13 April 2015

continue reading

Italy rescues migrants, finds 9 bodies near capsized boat

Italy's Coast Guard helped save 144 migrants Monday from a capsized boat in the waters off Libya and spotted nine bodies. It was the most dramatic of numerous rescue operations that brought thousands to safety in recent days, as good weather encourages the desperate to set out on smugglers' vessels.

The overturned boat was spotted 80 miles north of Libya, Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Rescuers were not yet able to determine from survivors whether some other migrants might be missing, he said. Nationalities of the migrants were not immediately made known.

An air-and-sea search was in progress near the capsizing boat.

Marini said that many of the rescue operations were outside the area of Operation Triton, the European Union patrol mission for surveillance and eventual assistance for the migrants. Even outside that zone, other vessels, including merchant ships, often come to the rescue.

Good weather is playing a role in the current surge in sea voyages. Mild temperatures and skies encourage migrant crossings, because they provide a greater chance of survival on the rickety fishing boats or rubberized dinghies that set sail from Libyan shores.

Smugglers often jump aboard speed boats as the vessels near the Italian coast. Left to fend for themselves, the migrants send out a distress signal, mobilizing the rescue operation.

"All of the calls for help came to the coast guard in Rome via satellite calls," from the boats in distress, said Marini. The Coast Guard's Rome headquarters has been coordinating the rescue operations.

"Even as we speak there are 14 rescue operations ongoing," the Coast Guard official said.

Survivors and the remains of the deceased were transferred aboard an Italian navy ship headed for Sicily, where it is expected to dock later in the day.

Coast Guard spokesman Filippo Marini told Efe that "last weekend, 5,629 immigrants were rescued," while he added that on Sunday alone, the National Relief Center of the Coast Guard coordinated rescues for 22 vessels.

Large numbers of illegal asylum-seeking immigrants set off from North African ports to nearby Italian coasts.

According to data released by the Italian Interior Ministry, 12,616 illegal immigrants arrived in Italy between January and April 7 in 2015, compared to 11,695 during the same period in 2014.

Italy's navy and frontier police boats joined the coast guard vessels in the rescue missions. Merchant vessels also pitched in, including the Italian cargo ship Bottiglieri, he said. An Operation Triton vessel was also involved in rescue operations, he said.

The Italian government has pressed the European Union to do more to patrol and rescue in the southern Mediterranean, especially since most of the migrants and asylum-seekers want to go to other EU countries where relatives or jobs await them.

Last year, 170,000 migrants arrived on Italian shores, thanks to rescue operations.

Monday 13 April 2015

continue reading

At least 23 dead as massive grass fire rips through Siberian towns and villages

Hundreds of people in southern Siberia took refuge in temporary shelters Monday after their homes were destroyed by forest fires that have left more than 20 people dead, officials said.

At least 23 people have so far been killed by fires in the republic of Khakasia, the Interfax news agency cited Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin as saying Monday. More than 900 people have suffered injuries, according to regional authorities.

Almost 1,300 houses in 34 villages and towns across the republic have sustained varying degrees of damage from the fires, the regional authorities said Monday in an online statement. Some 5,000 people have been rendered homeless, news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Shelters have been opened to help those affected, the regional administration said in a separate statement, and by Monday morning the shelters were housing 567 people, including 177 children.

More than 70 people had to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation, while homes were destroyed as flames fuelled by strong winds ravaged settlements throughout the republic situated in the country’s remote southern Siberian region.

Some 5,000 firefighters and thousands more volunteers were said to have worked day and night to save a reported 60,000 properties from destruction and take control of the fire.

Planes and helicopters were also used in a bid to stop the fire from spreading.

On Monday morning, safety officials reported that the fire had been largely put out but firefighters were still on high alert to ensure that no new fires started.

The fire is reported to have been the product of mass grass burning by residents in the area.

Grass burning has become a tradition in Russia, and every spring fires are started in agricultural areas in a bid to “enrich the soil with ashes.”

This is often carried out without care and can lead to massive fires that destroy property, crops and wildlife across the region.

Alexei Yaroshenko, a forest expert at environment conservation activist group Greenpeace, told the Govorit Moskva radio station that Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov and regional Governor Viktor Zimin should be held responsible for the deadly fires.

“We need to punish those who did not adopt systematic measures to fight the burning of dry grass: our Emergency Situations Minister Puchkov first and foremost," Yaroshenko said.

"The establishment of fire safety measures for the burning of dry grass was commissioned by the president two years ago. The blame lies above all with the Emergency Situations Ministry and, of course, with the head of the region,” he said.

The Federal Forestry Agency has also accused regional authorities of mismanaging the crisis, saying in a statement Sunday that they had failed to adopt the agency's recommended measures on preventing wildfires.

Officials said that this year’s particularly severe fires were caused by “uncontrolled burning, dry weather and uncharacteristically “strong and rough winds”.

“As soon as snow melts while rivers are still covered by ice, dry grass burns like gunpowder,' said emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov, “People begin to burn grass on their plots and fire spreads to agricultural land and pastures are burnt.”

Temporary camps were set up in the republic's Beisky and Shirinsky districts to accommodate people displaced by the fire.

An investigation is now currently underway to find out exactly where the fire was started.

Monday 13 April 2015

continue reading