Tuesday, 30 June 2015

First bodies retrieved from bottom of Med Sea after migrant boat disaster in April

The Italian navy has brought to shore the first three bodies of more than 700 thought to be lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean after the worst migrant boat disaster since the Second World War.

It had been feared that the migrant victims of the shipwreck in April would lay buried on the seabed after the Sicilian public prosecutor investigating the disaster initially refused to bring up the bodies.

But authorities have now begun the grim task of recovering the victims, many of whom were locked inside the hold when the smuggling boat capsized and sank off the Libyan coast.

The bodies lie at a depth of around 370m below sea level and are being brought to shore with the help of a robot equipped with sonar technology and two ‘arms’ capable of lifting the weight of a human corpse. It takes around two hours for each body to be recovered.

The Navy has also recruited specialist divers, who are on board two boats, Gaeta and Leonardo.

The recovery operation began as another 2,900 migrants were rescued on Monday night, after 21 boats in the space of 24 hours were found drifting in Libyan waters. The coastguard, as well as Italian ships and British, Irish and Spanish navy vessels were all involved in the rescue operation.

The rescues lifted to nearly 68,000 the number of migrants to have landed in Italy this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, said last month that the victims of the April disaster would be brought up to show the world what had happened. “We will recover that boat and we will bring it up,” he said.

"I want everyone to see what happened. It is unacceptable to keep saying: what the eye does not see the heart cannot grieve.”

Italy and other Mediterranean countries are struggling to cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the civil war in Syria and repression elsewhere in Africa by sea.

But Mr Renzi failed in a recent attempt to enforce compulsory quotas of refugees on EU member states. Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Nepal’s religious minorities battle for burial grounds

In a quiet corner in Rajahar, a small town in south-central Nepal, a two-decade old mosque serves not only as a place for prayer but also as one of few spaces unencumbered for the tiny, close-knit Muslim community.

On the adjoining lot, a church with a large compound and a classroom stands testament to the fact that the two religious minority groups in the Hindu majority country enjoy co-existence and interfaith harmony.

But life—or rather, death, to be specific—is harsh for them, beyond the confines of the prayer halls.

The 250-member Muslim community of Rajahar, in the district of Nawalparasi, braces for hostility whenever one among them dies.

“When someone in our community dies, we can’t bury him or her here because we don’t have a graveyard. We have to take the body to a forest in Chitwan [some 15 miles away] for burial. Even there we are faced with hostile locals, who harass us saying we were encroaching upon their land,” Nazamuddin Miya, 37, told Anadolu Agency.

A year ago, a 70-year old Muslim woman died in Rajahar. That afternoon, Miya and 30 other Muslims hired a bus that served as a hearse and drove to a forest in Ram Nagar in the neighboring Chitwan district.

Roughly 80 percent of Nepal’s 26.6 million people call themselves Hindus. Buddhists, the country’s second largest religious group, make up 9 percent of the population.

Nepal became a secular country after the end of Hindu monarchy in 2008, raising hopes of equal rights and representation for a melange of minority groups including Muslims, who make up roughly 4.4 percent, over a million of the population.

After the end of the decade-long Maoist insurgency in 2006, Nepal’s leaders pledged to deliver a democratic, inclusive constitution that addressed the grievances of marginalized communities, including Muslims and Christians.

Over the years, Nepali Muslims took part in protests demanding representation in the state structure, joining dozens of ethnic and regional groups agitating in the country’s eastern hills and Tarai plains.

But Muslim leaders say the state has continued to be discriminatory, denying them even basic rights to burial sites.

“A state doesn’t have a religion, but its citizens can follow any religion. Every religious community should be able to follow its rituals and practices. But the state has treated us like third-class citizens,” Roshan Kharel, a local Muslim leader, told Anadolu Agency.

“If the state allows us to be born as Muslim, it must also allow us to die as Muslim. And that’s when the issue of burial grounds becomes really significant for us. We have been struggling for it for several years but to no avail,” said Kharel, a former Hindu who converted to Islam during a stint as a migrant worker in Qatar.

The Muslims of Rajahar are not the only community that feels threatened and discriminated.

In Hetauda, a town of Makwanpur district, about 60 miles east of Rajahar, Christians face a similar ordeal.

“We don’t have any designated space for burial. We have buried our dead on a plot that belongs to a Hindu temple but we often face resistance from locals and temple authorities,” said Prashant Dev, a local Christian leader and publisher of a monthly Christian newspaper.

He said the Christian members of Makwanpur district, home to 22,000 Christians, have often fought for the designation of a burial ground.

“We have organized protests demanding a burial ground; I have led several delegations to the local administrator and forest office, but nothing has come out of it,” Dev told Anadolu Agency.

With the local authorities turning a deaf ear, he said, his community members were forced to buy land for a graveyard or donate to some of the 300 churches in the district to secure the burial sites.

When Nepal was hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April, nearly 10 percent of fatalities were Christians, who were in the middle of a weekly congregation.

Christians in Nepal congregate on Saturday – the day of the quake – taking advantage of the country's single-day weekend, said C. B. Gahatraj, a pastor and general secretary of the National Federation of Christians, a 5,700-member organization.

“Unfortunately, the districts that were hardest hit—Gorkha, Dhading, Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot and Kavre—are also places where most Nepali Christians live. That morning, they had gathered for prayers. So the congregants were killed in the earthquake,” he said, adding that the quake destroyed 93 churches and damaged 500 more in central and eastern Nepal.

Out of a total 8,844 victims of the quake, 778 were Christians, with most buried while praying in two neighborhoods of the capital Kathmandu and in several hamlets of the badly-hit Sindhupalchok district. While many agree on the numbers of the dead, there is no consensus on the nationwide population of Christians in Nepal. The national census puts the figure at 300,000 while Christian leaders claim there are 2.5 million.

“After the earthquake, lack of space for burial in Kathmandu forced us to move the bodies to the districts where they came from. We had been demanding burial grounds even the day before the earthquake,” Gahatraj told Anadolu Agency.

The minority religious group has fought a long and hard battle for burial grounds.

In early 2011, the issue of Christian cemeteries came to the fore after the Pashupati Area Development Trust, an autonomous body that oversees the country’s oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said it would no longer allow non-Hindus to use the Shleshmantak forest for burials.

While dozens of bodies are cremated everyday on the banks of the Bagmati River in the temple premises, Christians secretly buried their dead in the nearby forest.

A prolonged legal battle and hunger strikes ensued. After a 40-day relay hunger strike in May 2011, the government agreed to meet the Christian community’s demands for burial grounds and formed a high level committee to look into the issue.

A year later, with the committee dragging its feet and the government reluctant to provide space for a cemetery, the Christian community resumed the public protests.

“Despite our protests and after several pledges, the government has failed to address our grievances. The state simply is not paying any attention to our plight,” Gahatraj said.

Aside from the state, the majoritarian Hindu community has also grown intolerant of the minority religious groups’ rights.

Gahatraj and Dev both cited incidents in which they were not allowed to bury their dead on riverbanks, with local people intent on denying them last rites in accordance with Christian rituals.

When a family buried the dead body of a 68-year-old Christian man on their own land, locals protested by pulling the body out and leaving it on the family’s courtyard, Gahatraj said, recalling the 2013 incident in the district of Kavre, in central Nepal.

“Then, we buried him on the banks of a nearby river. Even then, his body was unearthed,” he said.

Their attempt to give the dead man a modicum of burial was foiled again after they buried the body at a forest in Kavre district.

“It had already been several days since his death and the body began to decompose,” Gahatraj recalled.

He and the dead man’s family then hired a pick-up truck and drove several hours, first to Kathmandu and then further west.

When they were about to bury the body on the banks of the Trishuli River, a group of locals, having noticed the activities, arrived on the riverbank amid a glow of torchlight in the night.

“We were allowed to bury the body only after handing 5,000 rupees ($50) to them,” he said.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Floods, landslides leave at least 28 dead or missing in China

Rain-triggered floods and landslides in four provinces since Friday have left at least 28 people dead or missing.

Five people have died in landslides in Shangcheng County, Henan Province, where heavy rain has forced the evacuation of nearly 800 people, the collapse of 100 dwellings and damage to over 200 buildings, according to the county's publicity office.

Over 6,700 hectares of crops have been damaged and power and communications have also been affected.

It is estimated that the weather has caused direct economic losses of 305 million yuan (about 49.9 million U.S. dollars).

In Shaanxi Province, floods have killed four people and left nine others missing in Foping County, where economic losses are estimated at about 170 million yuan. Power and communications were disrupted in most townships, according to the county government.

In Sichuan Province, two people were killed by landslides in Nanjiang County, which reported its worst floods since 1949. The disaster forced the relocation of 263,000 people across 48 townships. Another woman was killed by a landslide in Sichuan's Pengxi County.

On Monday it was confirmed that two people had died and five were still missing after heavy rain caused floods and landslides in Jinzhai County, Anhui Province. The downpour has battered seven provinces and a municipality in China.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Service men killed in crash en route to Vietnam remembered

Fifty years ago, 84 U.S. service men boarded an Air Force jet near Irvine bound for war-torn Vietnam, prepared to defend their country.

But the men never received their marching orders.

Shortly after the C-135 aircraft took off at El Toro Marine Air Station on June 25, 1965, it slammed into nearby Loma Ridge. The downed jet erupted in flames, spewing bodies and parts of bodies over the grassy hilltop across a mile-wide radius. All 72 Marines aboard and the 12-man Air Force crew died in the crash. The cause of the accident was never determined.

Five decades later, the crash remains the deadliest air disaster in Orange County history. But the servicemen's sacrifice was not remembered on any monument. Their names are not etched on the Vietnam Memorial walls in Washington because they died in the U.S., before receiving their official orders, the organizers of a new tribute say.

So 15-year-old Jordan Fourcher created an interactive memorial kiosk at the Aviation and Heritage Museum at Orange County Great Park, formerly the El Toro Marine base, to honor the men who lost their lives in that fatal flight. The kiosk will feature a metal base, engraved with the names of the men, and a touch-screen interactive kiosk with biographical information about each of the men, he said.

Fourcher spent a year working on a lasting monument as part of his Eagle Scout project.

"I was going to do a metal plaque in a park," said the Corona Del Mar resident. "But it turned into something so much more. Everything aligned and worked out perfectly."

On Saturday, more than 50 family members of the deceased are expected to gather at the Great Park for the unveiling of the memorial inside the Great Park hangar. Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters are expected to attend the event, which will feature a Marine Corps color guard and a missing man flyover with World War II-era aircrafts, Pat Macha, one of the event's organizer, said.

"Jordan has done a wonderful job on this," Macha said. "It is just amazing."

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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At least 38 dead after military plane crashes in Indonesian city

At least 38 people have been killed after an Indonesian military plane crashed Tuesday in a residential neighborhood of Medan city in North Sumatra, a police official said, according to the Associated Press.

The pilot of the Hercules C-130 told the air control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble, Air Marshall Agus Supriatna reportedly said.

"The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport," Supriatna said, adding that there were 17 military personnel on board the plane.

Twelve crew members were on board the plane, air force operations commander Agus Dwi Putranto said on local television, according to the Associated Press (AP), adding that the total number of passengers on board was unknown. Authorities reportedly said that a rescue operation is underway.

A local hospital spokeswoman Sairi M. Saragih said that the hospital had received five bodies so far, according to AP.

Television footage showed the wreckage of the downed C-130 Hercules, a crumpled burning car and a shattered building that local media said contained a spa. Smoke billowed from the site and several thousand people milled nearby.

North Sumatra police chief Eko Hadi Sutedjo told reporters that the plane was carrying 50 people based on its manifest.

He said 37 bodies have been transported to Medan's Adam Malik hospital and include a child who was probably about a year old.

None of the bodies has been identified and it's unclear how many of the victims are military personnel and how many are civilians, Sutedjo said.

The crash of the transport plane occurred just two minutes after it took off from Soewondo air force base.

Air force chief Air Marshall Agus Supriatna said the pilot told the control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble.

"The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport," Supriatna said.

Medan resident Fahmi Sembiring said he saw the gray Hercules flying very low as he was driving.

"Flames and black smoke were coming from the plane in the air," he said. Sembiring said he stopped not far from the crash site and saw several people rescued by police, security guards and bystanders.

Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record. Between 2007 and 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns. The country's most recent civilian airline disaster was in December, when an AirAsia jet with 162 people on board crashed into the Java Sea en route from Surabaya to Singapore.

The C-130 accident is the second time in 10 years that an airplane has crashed into a Medan neighborhood. In September 2005, a Mandala Airlines Boeing 737 crashed into a crowded residential community shortly after takeoff from Medan's Polonia airport, killing 143 people including 30 on the ground.

Medan, with about 3.4 million people, is the third most populous city in Indonesia after the capital, Jakarta, and Surabaya.

Tuesday 30 June 2015



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Italy begins recovery of 800 migrant bodies from Med shipwreck

The Italian navy said it had begun efforts to recover the bodies of some 800 migrants killed in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean in April, as authorities rescued another 4,400 people making the dangerous sea journey to Europe.

The April 18 tragedy was the deadliest sinking in the sea between Europe and Africa in decades and sparked international calls for reinforced efforts to deal with the growing migrant crisis.

"The navy... has begun the recovery of bodies outside the trawler that sank on April 18... from a depth of around 380 metres (1,246 feet)," the navy said on Twitter.

Only 28 people survived the shipwreck at the time, out of an estimated 800 on board when the vessel set sail from Libya.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last month announced that he wanted the wreck to be brought to the surface and victims' bodies returned to their families for burial, saying the country could not "bury its conscience at a depth of 387 metres".

Also on Monday, Italian authorities said they were dealing with the arrival of another 4,400 migrants after a series of boats were rescued in the space of 48 hours from waters off Libya.

The rescues lifted to more 69,000 -- a record for the first half of the year -- the number of migrants to have landed in Italy so far this year, according to figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The latest operations involved Italian ships, British, Irish and Spanish navy vessels and a boat operated by Malta-based humanitarian organisation MOAS, the Italian coastguard said.

- 80,000 migrants -

The surge in migrant arrivals since the start of 2015 has left Italy's reception facilities, currently housing around 80,000 asylum-seekers and others seeking leave to remain in the country, under severe strain.

The situation is likely to get worse over the summer when the numbers of boats dispatched by people smugglers usually peaks. Of last year's arrivals, some 100,000 arrived between June and September.

The sharp increase in migrant arrivals has left Italy's centre-left government under constant attack from the country's vocal far-right and some regions are threatening to refuse to house any more migrants.

The crisis has also put Italy at loggerheads with its European Union partners over contested proposals to spread some asylum-seekers across the bloc and moves by neighbouring countries to tighten their border controls to restrict the numbers of migrants travelling out of Italy on their way to northern Europe.

Italy regards these moves as breaching the principles of solidarity and of free movement of people within Europe. On the other side of the debate there is a perception that Italy is not sufficiently rigorous about registering new arrivals at its ports and sending economic migrants back to their countries of origin as a deterrent to others thinking of making the trip.

According to aid groups, just over half of the migrants arriving in Italy have a legitimate claim to asylum, mostly as a result of having fled conflict in Syria or repression in Eritrea.

The civil war in Syria is also seen as being behind a surge in asylum-seekers arriving in Greece, where over 80,000 migrants have arrived this year, three quarters of them on boats which mostly leave from Turkey.

This year has also seen a sharp increase in the numbers of migrants dying during the crossings with over 1,800 fatalities reported en route to Italy and at least 27 off Greece, according to the IOM.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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