Sunday, 10 February 2013

Ten killed in stampede at Kumbh Mela festival India

At least 10 people were killed and a dozen more injured Sunday after a stampede broke out at a train station in the northern Indian town where millions of devout Hindus gathered for a religious festival, a senior government minister said.

Pawan Bansal, India's Railway Minister, told reporters that the stampede took place as massive crowds flooded the Allahabad train station on Sunday evening.

At least two television channels, NDTV and CNN-IBN said as many as 20 people were feared dead and 30 others injured. News reports said the large crowds caused a section of a footbridge at the station to collapse leading to the accident.

News reports said tens of thousands of people were at the train station at the time. Television showed large crowds pushing and jostling at the train station as policemen struggled to restore order.

"There was complete chaos. There was no doctor or ambulance for at least two hours after the accident," an eyewitness told NDTV news channel.

An estimated 30 million devotees were expected to take a dip at the Sangam, the confluence of 3 rivers - the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati - on Sunday, 1 of the holiest bathing days of the Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival. The festival lasts 55 days and is 1 of the world's largest religious gatherings.

The auspicious bathing days are decided by the alignment of stars, and devout Hindus believe a dip in the sacred river on 1 of these days will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

The festival brings together millions of devout worshipers and thousands of religious leaders and ascetics.

The most dramatic feature of the festival is the Naga sadhus - ascetics with ash rubbed all over their bodies, wearing only marigold garlands - leaping joyfully into the holy waters.

According to Hindu mythology, the Kumbh Mela celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a furious battle over nectar that would give them immortality. As 1 of the gods fled with a pitcher of the nectar across the skies, it spilled on four Indian towns_Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.

The Kumbh Mela is held four times every 12 years in those towns. Hindus believe that sins accumulated in past and current lives require them to continue the cycle of death and rebirth until they are cleansed. If they bathe at the Ganges on the most auspicious day of the festival, believers say they can rid themselves of their sins.

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

Ndola Mass Burial for 36 Set for Monday

Copperbelt minister Mwenya Musenge has said 36 bodies of the Zampost Bus accident will be buried in Ndola on Monday at a mass burial.

Five bodies will be buried in Lusaka, one in Mansa, one in Nakonde and three bodies in Kabwe.

Most of these people are residents of Ndola where the bus was coming from to Lusaka, the Zambian capital when it collided head on with a truck in Chibombo.

Our Copperbelt Correspondent described the situation in Ndola as sad saying the city was in mourning. It is sad, the funerals are being held in the city’s townships and the mood is solemnly as you drive around Ndola, Zambian Eye Copperbelt province Correspondent said Saturday evening.

Musenge said the church service will be held on Monday at Levy Mwanawasa stadium then burial will later take place at Mitengo cemetery.

He said the burial date was agreed upon after government discussed with relatives of the family on the day of burial.

He said one of the accident victims, Margaret Chilufya, was a relative of President Michael Sata.

The Zambia Postal Services has since agreed to meet all the funeral expenses including the buying of caskets.

Starting from Sunday 6am, President Michael Sata has declared a three days National Mourning in honor of the victims. During this period the flags will fly at half mast and all programmes of entertainment nature will be suspended.

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

Ayacucho remembers its long years of suffering

They say the past is a distant land and people are different there.

But Adelina Garcia Mendoza recalls the events of Dec. 1, 1983, as if they were part of a film that’s unreeling still, as if she were the same woman she was then — a young wife and mother, just as helpless, just as afraid.

“I remember it all as if it were a moment ago,” she says.

Those were terrible times, the long, dark years of the 1980s and early ’90s, when this handsome colonial town high in the central Andes of Peru was haunted by two murderous forces — an eerie Maoist insurgency known as Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, pitted against the Peruvian police and military.

Now a woman of 50, with her long black hair streaked with filaments of grey and pulled back from her bronze, oval face, Garcia huddles at a small wooden table on the second floor of a building that houses the aptly named Museum of Memory. The structure stands on a street called Liberty in the western reaches of Ayacucho, the city where the Shining Path was born, where it thrived for more than a decade, and where it finally collapsed amid a poisoned legacy of murder, grief and enduring loss.

Just now, Garcia is recalling the night three decades ago when Peruvian soldiers in balaclavas burst into the home she shared with her husband and their two infant daughters at 282 Avenida Arenales.

“The wounds suffered by the people were very hard, very sad. Even now, the people haven’t escaped this situation. There are indelible memories.”

It was after midnight, a curfew was in force, and Garcia and her family were asleep in their beds.

The soldiers seized her spouse of four years, a self-employed welder, aged 27. His name is Jose Zosimo Prado, or at least it was. They muscled him out of the house.

“The soldiers hit me when I tried to grab him,” Garcia says. “We couldn’t follow them because of the curfew. We couldn’t go in the street.”

And so her husband joined the growing ranks of los desaparecidos.

The disappeared.

It is a defining trait of this benighted species that, when they vanish, they vanish forever, and Garcia has never seen her husband again.

She insists he took no part in subversion. She believes some neighbours must have denounced him — out of jealousy or spite — and the soldiers did the rest.

Tens of thousands of innocent people were killed during those years, in Ayacucho or the smaller towns or villages scattered across this lofty hinterland. Some of the bodies have been found and identified. Thousands more are missing still, and their fate continues to engender a special category of suffering.

Like Ayacucho itself, Garcia is trapped between an unresolved past and an uncertain future.

In the years since her husband disappeared, the population of her city has nearly doubled, and life is peaceful now, although troubles persist.

Poverty remains widespread; transportation routes are better but still inadequate; industry is non-existent; and it’s a rare foreign tourist who finds his way here.

That’s a shame, for Ayacucho is a stately city graced by more than 30 churches, where sturdy stone porticos and clay-tile roofs surround an airy plaza ornamented by jacarandas, pepper trees and palms. Steep green hills rise on all sides.

You would not guess that this was once a place of terror and bombs, of torture and death.

“The wounds suffered by the people were very hard, very sad,” says Amilcar Huancahuari Tueros, the mayor of the city. “Even now, the people haven’t escaped this situation. There are indelible memories.”

Late last month, white coffins containing the remains of 78 victims of the conflict were turned over to family members in a daylong ceremony in Ayacucho. The dead included pregnant women, children and seniors, whose remains were found in more than 50 mass or individual graves in the district of Chungui.

Established in 1971, the Shining Path was originally a faction of Peru’s Maoist-line Communist party. Its founder and leader was a 42-year-old philosophy professor named Abimael Guzman, who taught at the University of San Cristobal de Huamanga in Ayacucho and initially trolled for acolytes among the school’s students and faculty.

Better known by his nom-de-guerre — Presidente Gonzalo — Guzman had a grandiose vision of himself and his cause, holding himself up as the fourth pillar of world revolution, in a league with Marx, Lenin and Mao Zedong.

In 1975, Guzman and his followers launched the clandestine phase of their struggle, melting into the slums of Ayacucho or fanning out into the impoverished hamlets in the surrounding hills, to proselytize among the urban poor and the rural peasantry.

Five years later, just as Peru was returning to democratic rule following 12 years of military dictatorship, the Shining Path emerged from the shadows, launching an armed guerrilla struggle against the newly established authorities.

Harsh, murderous and relentlessly destructive, the rebels soon squandered whatever early sympathy they may have enjoyed. Worse, their armed campaign provoked the government into acts of equal violence.

In 1983, Lima sent in the armed forces, clamping Ayacucho and the surrounding region under martial rule.

The result was a two-sided horror story, with the senderistas on one side, the military on the other, and the mainly indigenous population caught in the middle.

“It was very hard to distinguish one side from the other,” says Humberto Hernandez Arribasplata, now rector of the university in Ayacucho. “I couldn’t say this side did more, that side did less. Both sides invaded and destroyed.”

On Jan. 26, 1983, a group of eight Peruvian journalists — most of them from newspapers in Lima — travelled from Ayacucho to an outlying village called Uchuraccay, home to roughly 400 people.

For reasons that are still fiercely debated, some of the villagers turned on the journalists, hacking and bludgeoning them to death and then burying their bodies and their equipment.

The eight were among the first fatalities of the conflict who hailed from outside this isolated region, and their deaths shocked people all over Peru and captured the attention of newspaper readers and TV audiences in other parts of the world. Something sinister — and very deadly — was happening in Peru.

The focus of the trouble remained fixed in the central Andes, with Ayacucho at its epicentre, but the killings and sabotage, the terror and suspicion, soon spread to other parts of the country. Here in Ayacucho, death became an intimate affair.

At the military garrison by the airport at the edge of town — a facility then known as Cuartel los Cabitos — soldiers installed four large ovens, which they used to cremate the bodies of those they’d tortured and killed, including children.

According to Hernandez, the university rector, portions of more than 500 bodies have so far been discovered buried beneath the land adjoining the garrison. Only about 50 have so far been identified, he said.

Maybe some of those bones belong to Adelina Garcia’s husband, but nobody knows.

In the weeks following his capture, Garcia made repeated forays to the garrison to plead for information. She learned nothing. Three weeks after her husband vanished, she heard that some human cadavers had turned up in a village not far from Ayacucho. She and others hurried there.

“We found five dead, all nude,” she says now. “We couldn’t recognize the faces.”

She knew her husband had a large scar on his right leg, and she searched frantically for that.

“But I didn’t find him,” she says. “I have never found him.”

In the ensuing years, Peru has managed to put a portion of its nightmares to rest.

Guzman, the Shining Path founder, has been behind bars since 1992 — an old and bilious man now, cursed with chronic psoriasis. In 2003, a government-appointed tribunal called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented its final report — 12 volumes in all — confirming that at least 69,280 lives were lost in what commission chairman Salomon Lerner called a time “of horror and disgrace for Peruvian society and the state.”

Nowadays, memorials to the dead abound, including innumerable plaques, as well as the modest gallery — the Museum of Memory — in Ayacucho.

In Lima, the Peruvian government constructed a more ambitious museum devoted to those times. The finished project, occupying the sixth floor of the Ministry of Culture headquarters, is both chilling and unnerving.

Despite these efforts, the pain and suffering of people such as Adelina Garcia persist.

Like thousands of others, she wants to ensure that what happened years ago in these remote mountains will never be forgotten. As president of a national organization that represents the families of the dead and disappeared, Garcia is also pressing for what she calls a “dignified indemnity” to compensate the families of those who died or disappeared.

The money would undoubtedly help, but it would not drain the sorrows that still haunt these lands. It would not remake the future. It would not erase the past.

“We are always going to have this pain,” Garcia says, “especially the families of the disappeared.”

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

Five dead on Canary Islands cruise ship

Five crew have been killed after a lifeboat they were in fell from the Thomson cruise ship Majesty while it was docked in the port of Santa Cruz de la Palma in the Canary Islands.

The accident happened during a routine safety drill at about 12:00 GMT. Three others were also hurt as the lifeboat fell into the sea, trapping occupants.

Those killed include three Indonesians, a Filipino and a Ghanaian.

The MS Thomson Majesty is operated by UK-based Thomson Cruises.

The UK Foreign Office said it was aware of the incident and was "urgently investigating".

No passengers were involved in the accident, local reports say.

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

Turkey: Search For Sierra Turns Spotlight On Families Of Missing People

The Turkish police last week performed excellent work in their operation to locate missing US tourist Sarai Sierra, whose body was found near the ancient city walls of Istanbul, causing much agony to her family but also affording them closure.

To much media hype, the search for Sierra was carried out with great care and effort, with the police going through hours of footage from city and private security cameras to trace Sierra down, following every single clue as to her whereabouts, which caused some Turkish columnists and Internet users to express feelings of resentment, in a country where thousands have disappeared at the hands of the authorities.

But not all missing person cases have a political background and last week during the search for the missing woman, one search party stood out from the crowd. The Association of Families of Missing People (YAKAD) also aided in the search efforts, putting up posters for the missing US woman and passing out flyers bearing her photograph.

The association publicly said it would look for Sierra as it would for a missing person of their own family, and did its best until the search ended tragically with the discovery of the unfortunate woman's body. But do the police, which mobilized all of their resources to find the US visitor, take the same effort when searching for others? And if not, has this caused any bitterness among people who have been looking for missing family members for years?

"This caused some resentment in society; there were comments on social media. But we don't discriminate on the basis of nationality. To whomever this happens, we do the same thing. Sarai Sierra's family suffered a lot, and as families of missing people, we felt their pain," said Zafer Özbilici, the president of YAKAD, which was established by his father when the family's second son, his brother, went missing years ago. "Sarai Sierra is a daughter of ours, too. The treatment she received, the immense effort, was absolutely right. This is how it should be for all missing people. This is how we should be looking for them."

Laws obstruct searches

Although the way the authorities generally handle cases of missing people is far from the special care shown to Sierra's case, there have been some improvements in the past few years in YAKAD's experience. Technological instruments are increasingly being employed in the search for the missing, particularly since the much-publicized incident of the three children who went missing in Kayseri in 2009.

Their tragic fate was found out only in 2011 when their bodies were discovered buried near a lake in the province after months of intense searching. Their killer, who raped one of the children before the murders, was also captured in 2011. However, even in the case of the Kayseri children, the police did not work as meticulously as they did towards the end from the start. "When a child is missing, if they are kidnapped or found by a pedophile, their rape and murder usually take place within the first hour after they go missing. A rapid response system should be set up," said Özbilici.

"The concept of a 'missing person' should be in the law," the YAKAD president said, noting that current legislation at times works against carrying out a speedy search. For example, obtaining permission from the prosecutor to track down cellphone signals can take up to a week, which might be too late in some cases. He also said that Turkey lacked a crucial resource: a region-based sex offender registry, which can be life-saving in cases of missing children. "In cases of missing children, all parties should act as they would in the case of an extraordinary situation," he said.

According to Özbilici, 9,000 children go missing in Turkey in a year. He stated that even the police can run up against obstacles due to loopholes in legislation. For example, there is no law forcing private cellphone network operators to share communications information about a missing person if it is requested on a weekend or a holiday.

He said the only recognition of missing people in law is when a family, which has given up their search after an extended period of time, can apply for a status called "gaiplik" in Turkish law, which falls slightly short of a dead in absentia certificate. For legal matters, the missing person is presumed dead but their rights are reserved in case they return, which is extremely rare.

Özbilici also noted that about 3,000 missing people are currently in the police's missing persons database, which can be viewed online, but added that the statistics are not reliable.

Pinar Bozkurt, whose sister went missing on the morning of Feb. 5 but turned up the night of Feb. 6, said as much as she was relieved to have her sister back, the police hadn't been helpful at all. "They said we had to come back in 48 hours. We had to ask a friend to crack her and Facebook passwords to track her down," she said. Bozkurt said: "If that was the child of a police officer or a judge, would they still act with such indifference? I think not."

Özbilici said it was a common misconception that a certain period of time needs to elapse before a missing person's report can be made. Of this family, he said: "Possibly, the police officer they talked to at the station wasn't a Missing Persons Department officer. I am surprised though that this misconception still exists. We used to hear about a 24-hour gap needed for filing reports, but this isn't true either." He said 90 percent of the people reported missing usually turn up later, and the police might sometimes act dismissively based on these figures.

Mehmet Halil Güldüren has been looking for his son, Harun Güldüren, for the past 15 years. Harun went missing in 1997 in Gümbet, located near the town of Bodrum. "He went to Gümbet for work. He disappeared. We put up his photos everywhere, at every police station in Bodrum." Güldüren, who is still actively looking for his son, who should be 34 years old now, said he couldn't complain about the work the police have done and said the officers he is currently in touch with are very helpful. But when asked about if he could confidently say that the local police in Bodrum did their best to help, at least initially, he said: "We couldn't find any clues. We couldn't get any information."

YAKAD has been in contact with deputies in Parliament to push for better laws to assist in cases of missing people. They have even tried getting dairy manufacturers to print photos of missing people on milk cartons as happens in some other countries, but companies have been reluctant and public campaigns without the help of legislation forcing companies or other agencies to share information about missing people are difficult to organize. However, lawmakers seem to be reluctant to address the issue, Özbilici noted.

"The pain of looking for a missing loved one is worse than the pain of losing a loved one," Özbilici said, adding that families of missing people, for lack of closure, commonly had to deal with various psychological issues.

"What happened to Sarai Sierra could happen to anyone. The risk of having a loved one go missing is something that is present at all times," Özbilici noted as a reminder.

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

5 Dead After Costa Rica Motel Fire

Five people died and another two were injured Friday when a small motel burned down in the rural community of Puriscal, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the Costa Rican capital.

All the victims were people aged between 50 to 70 years. Two more people were badly burned and taken to hospital.

The Health Ministry said that on Dec. 19 he declared the Las Aguilas Motel uninhabitable due to the disrepair of its wooden construction and electrical system, and set Jan. 30 as the latest date for shutting it down, but the owner, who is wanted by police, refused to close it.

The fire began at 1:24 a.m. local time (0724 GMT), apparently from a short circuit, and spread rapidly, fire chief Hector Chaves said.

The motel guests had little time to escape, Chaves said, adding that one of the bodies was found just a few meters (feet) from the exit.

The injured were taken in grave condition to hospitals in San Jose.

Las Aguiles Motel was surrounded by a number of tents that were also damaged by the fire, which took two hours to put out. Residents told the media that the motel owner escaped across the roofs of neighboring establishments.

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

At least six dead after torrential rains and floods in Arequipa, Peru

At least six people have been killed after torrential rain in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa caused flooding, inundating hundreds of homes.

Authorities reported that three of those who perished were found trapped in their vehicle in high water on a flooded road underneath a bridge, presumably having driven in not knowing the depth of the water.

A regional meteorologist quoted by the Andina state news agency said nearly 12.3cm of rain fell on Arequipa, the country's second-largest city, during a seven-hour period that began on Friday afternoon.

Police officer Cesar Villegas told The Associated Press on Saturday that homes were destroyed and cars flipped over by surging floodwaters in the city of 800,000 residents.

Video broadcast on Peruvian television showed muddy torrents tearing apart dirt streets.

Regional Governor Miguel Guzman said at least two bridges have collapsed and several outlying towns were cut off.

Sunday 10 February 2013

continue reading

Mumbai Government Railway Police failed to identify 1,111 bodies in 2012

The Mumbai Government Railway Police (GRP) failed to identify 1,111 unclaimed bodies out of 3,541 found on railway premises in 2012. The bodies included those of beggars and drug addicts. This means a little less than one third remained unidentified and were later disposed of.

According to the GRP, Kalyan (157), Kurla (143), Thane (103) and Vasai (103) reported the highest number of unclaimed bodies.

Every year, thousands migrate to Mumbai, with many of them settling near religious places or on railway premises. They more often than not face starvation and suffer from malnutrition or some other illnesses.

“When we come across the body of an unidentified person on railway premises, we take a photo of the deceased and, along with his/her detailed description, circulate it to all police stations across the state, control rooms of other states, and also broadcast it via Doordarshan and publish it in newspapers to trace the person’s relatives. While we wait for a claimant to turn up, the body is kept in the morgue of a government or civil hospital for eight days,” said a railway police officer. If it remains unclaimed for long, the railway police dispose of it, he added.

Saying it was a challenge to trace the relatives of a beggar or drug addict, deputy commissioner of police, railway, GS Bhandare said, “Thanks to the GRP’s efforts, the number of unclaimed bodies has dropped from 1,392 in 2008 to 1,111 in 2012.”

He added that the Mumbai GRP commissioner Prabhat Kumar launched the website http:// in June 2012 to trace the identity of accident victims found on tracks. People can search for missing people by giving their physical description on the website.

Railway activist Sameer Zaveri, who filed a PIL in the Bombay high court in 2008 in this regard, said, “As per the HC’s direction, the Western and Central railways in January 2011 started a website to post details of the accidents where the public are given all details of the victim.”

Saturday 9 February 2013

continue reading

65,000 Soldiers For ‘DNA Banking’

Soon, the ever-popular ‘Unknown Soldier’ and mass burial resulting from the inability of medical personnel to identify members of the Nigerian Armed Forces, who die in certain circumstances would be consigned to history with the introduction of latest medical technology.

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has built a molecular laboratory complex, the DNA Banking and Analysis Centre in Abuja, which would be commissioned before the end of March.

A member of the DHQ visiting team to the Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), Oshodi, Lagos, Lt. Commander Livinus Ukachukwu of the DNA Centre, said mass burial and the inability of medical personnel to identify the exact identity of soldiers, who die on active service in the Nigerian Armed Forces, would now be solved with advancement in science and technology.

Ukachukwu said after the Potiskum carnage in which a military truck conveying soldiers on their way back to base, collided with a fuel truck was burnt and the men beyond recognition, a committee was set up to determine the best way to identify deceased persons.

The committee, he revealed, came up with the recommendation that led to the establishment of the laboratory.

For optimal usage of the centre, Ukachukwu disclosed that about 65,000 soldiers already have their DNA materials in the Centre’s bank from which any necessary identification would be carried out.

He said other services that can be offered, even to the public; include proof of paternity, forensics with respect to criminal matters and researches as deemed necessary by the Army Command.

Saturday 10 February 2013

continue reading