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Dhaka City of construction death traps

It is impossible to imagine how terrifying it must have been for the dozens of people caught in the fire which killed at least 116 people in the old part of the capital Dhaka.
It hit them like a bomb blast, without warning, at the time in the evening when the city’s residents like to begin dinner.
It started on Thursday night when an electricity transformer exploded.
The fire soon spread to a storeroom containing chemicals and gas canisters. Within minutes, flames of up to 76m (250ft) shot into the air. They jumped across a narrow lane and spread from building to building in a packed neighbourhood of old Dhaka, the over-congested, historic centre of the Bangladeshi capital.
The worst hit building was a badly constructed, five-storey, brick block of cheap accommodation cells.
As the fire spread from room to room, people will have found out to their horror that the windows were covered by metal grills and there was no fire-escape.

The only way out was by the front door and a leap through the flames and the smoke.
On the roof, a wedding party was in full swing. By chance, the bride survived, as she was having her make-up and hair done in a beauty salon at the time.
Neighbours helped drag people out, and then carried them to hospital.
It took the fire brigade more than one hour to reach the inferno, even though their headquarters are less than 1km away. Their progress along the narrow lanes of the old city was slowed by the people, cars and rickshaws in their way.
Almost 24 hours later, the rescue services are still there, searching through the charred wreckage of homes, shops and warehouses for bodies.
One burnt corpse was found half buried in a sewer, next to the remains of a grocery shop - its torso covered by piles of burnt chillies and other spices.

In the mosque around the corner, a huge crowd of mourners gathered to hear special prayers.
The relatives of those who died then carried coffins high above everyone’s heads and on to waiting trucks.
It is the worst fire that anyone can remember, but it is not an isolated incident.
This is the second disaster to strike a poorly built accommodation block in Dhaka this week.
On Tuesday night, in another part of town, a building suddenly collapsed when the ground beneath it subsided killing 25 people.
It had been built illegally on what used to be a canal, before a developer had filled it in with sand.
In both cases it seems pretty clear that builders and landlords had ignored Bangladesh’s planning and safety regulations. (BBC NEWS)


21st Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square memoir claims China decided to ‘spill some blood’

China decided that it had no choice but to “spill some blood” during the Tiananmen Square massacre in order to preserve stability, a new memoir by a top leader of the time has claimed.
The phrase, attributed to China’s then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, appears in a previously suppressed diary which publishers say will lift the veil of secrecy over how the decision was made to send in the tanks on the night of June 3-4.

Leaked extracts of the diary said to be by Li Peng, the hardline former head of China’s government in 1989 who is most deeply associated with the bloody crackdown, appeared yesterday as dissidents commemorated the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square.
“The measures for martial law must be steady-handed, and we must minimise harm, but we must prepare to spill some blood,” Deng told officials on May 19 1989, according to a copy of the manuscript.
Mr Li, now 81 and reportedly in frail health, is said to have written his diary to justify his own role in the killings and to counter long-standing beliefs in China that it he pressured Deng Xiaoping into ordering the use of lethal force.

“From the beginning of the turmoil, I have prepared for the worst,” Mr Li is quoted as saying.
“I would rather sacrifice my own life and that of my family to prevent China from going through a tragedy like the Cultural Revolution,” he added, referring to a period of bitter political in-fighting in China from 1966-76.
The memoirs come a year after the publication of the secret memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party general secretary, who Premier Li helped push from office for seeking to negotiate with the protestors.
The publishers say they taken every possible to assess the authenticity of the memoirs which were passed to them through a middle-man, but admit that some doubts remain which will set out in a footnote to the book that will come out later this month.

News of the Li Peng memoir came as an estimated 50,000 people, many of them students, gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for the annual candlelit vigil to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre.
All mention of the “Tiananmen Incident” is suppressed in mainland China, with the authorities banning any mention in the state-controlled media, although former dissidents expressed their feeling through online forums.


Flotilla activists ‘shot 30 times’

Autopsies on bodies of activists killed in Israel’s attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla five days ago have revealed that the victims were shot multiple times at close range.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted Yalcin Buyuk, the vice-chairman of the Turkish council of forensic medicine, as saying that the nine men were shot a total of 30 times.
Two men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, Buyuk told the newspaper.
Ibrahim Bilgen, a 60-year-old activist, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back, the autopsy revealed.

Nineteen-year-old Furkan Dogan, a US citizen of Turkish descent, was shot five times from less that 45cm in the face, the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back.
Nine people were killed in Monday’s pre-dawn raid on the Freedom Flotilla, a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid, that was heading to Gaza in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of the territory.
Israeli military said the marines, who boarded the ship in international waters, fired in self-defence after activists attacked them.

Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, when asked why a 60-year-old and 19-year-old, amongst others, were shot multiple times at close range, said:
“We learnt the hard way that terrorists can be of a variety of ages or backgrounds.”
“They had one goal, they choose to confront us with knives and metal rods,” she said.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, who was travelling in the flotilla and witnessed the Israeli raid, confirmed that some passengers took apart some of the ship’s railings to defend themselves as they saw the Israeli soldiers approaching.

He said that he witnessed some of the killings, and confirmed that at least “one person was shot through the top of the head from [the helicopter] above.”
“After the shooting and the first deaths, people put up white flags and signs in English and Hebrew,” he said.
“An Israeli activist [on the ship] asked the soldiers to take away the injured, but they did not and the injured died on the ship.”
The deaths, which all took place on the lead ship, theMavi Marmara, continue to draw widespread condemnation.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, speaking during a televised speech said: “You [Israel] killed 19-year-old Furkan Dogan brutally. Which faith, which holy book can be an excuse for killing him?”
“I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says “thou shalt not kill”. Did you not understand? I’ll say again. I say in English “you shall not kill”. Did you still not understand? So I’ll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew ‘Lo Tirtzakh’.”
Talking about Hamas, he said: “[They] are resistance fighters fighting for their land. They are Palestinians. (Al-Jazeera)


Obama: BP has ‘moral and legal obligations’ to Gulf Coast

President Obama blasted BP officials today for sponsoring a $50 million television ad campaign to “manage their image” as they try to stop the oil gusher that is polluting the Gulf of Mexico and threatening the livelihoods of coastal residents.
“They’ve got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf for the damage that has been done,” Obama said, also noting that BP just paid out quarterly dividends of $10.5 billion. “That’s billion, with a b,” he added.
“What I don’t want to hear is, when they’re spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they’re nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time,” the president said.
Obama - who has been criticized for not showing enough emotion over the oil spill - demanded that BP process damage claims from the area as quickly as possible, or his administration would pressure the company to do so.
“They say they want to make it right - that’s part of their advertising campaign,” Obama said. “Well, we want them to make it right.”
Obama also said it is “way too early to be optimistic”about BP’s latest plan to cap the gushing oil spill.
The president spoke with reporters after meeting with his Gulf Coast point person Thad Allen, other aides, Gulf Coast officials and regional governors including two Republicans: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob Riley of Alabama. They discussed the environmental and economic consequences of the oil spill that is now spreading toward the coast of Florida.
It is Obama’s third trip to the region since the April 20 explosion on a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. (USA Today)


News in brief

Israel intercepts new Gaza-bound aid ship
Israeli forces have intercepted another aid-laden ship bound for Gaza.
They are shadowing but have not boarded the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie, some 55 kilometres out in the Mediterranean, a spokeswoman for the campaign group supporting the ship said.
The 1,200 tonne ship with 11 passengers on board was hoping to arrive in Gaza bearing aid supplies this afternoon, but Israel vowed to prevent the ship from docking.
Those onboard said they were prepared for a confrontation but that they did not have weapons on the ship.
The vessel, named after an American pro-Palestinian activist killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003, was seized five days after a convoy of six was halted.
That convoy included a Turkish ship on which nine men were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed aboard. (ABC)

Cyclone Phet heads to Pakistan
As Cyclone Phet continues it approach towards Pakistan’s coastal areas, disaster management authorities have warned over a hundred thousand people can be affected by the storm.
Despite weakening to a Category 1 storm on Friday, Sindh Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) Director General (DG) Saleh Ahmed Farooqi said over 0.1 million people would be directly affected if the storm hits the coastline.
Speaking at a press conference at the New Sindh Secretariat, he said the evacuation process has started.
Representatives of Pakistan Navy, Maritime Security Agency, Pakistan Meteorological Department, Coast Guard and the City District Government Karachi are taking part in the evacuation.
Over 7,400 people have been shifted to 13 relief camps in Thatta, while 10,000 people have been shifted to 40 camps in Badin district. However, thousands more are refusing to abandon their homes. The government says it will evacuate the people forcibly if they continue to resist.
The most vulnerable areas of Karachi are Deh Songal, Yousaf Goth and Manghopir.
The Sindh government has allocated Rs 100 million to meet the requirements of food and medicine in the camps. (Daily times)

Obama delays overseas trip
President Obama is putting off his June trip to Indonesia and Australia, postponing the trip for a second time this year as the oil spill in the Gulf continues unabated.
Obama called the leaders of both countries last night to convey his regrets, according to a senior administration official. The president said he plans to reschedule a trip so that he can visit both countries soon.
“President Obama underscored his commitment to our close alliance with Australia and our deepening partnership with Indonesia,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement issued overnight.
Obama also plans to hold full bilateral meetings with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the margins of the upcoming G-20 meeting in Canada.
The president, who spent part of his youth in Indonesia, had planned to return there for a visit in March, but canceled it as lawmakers on Capitol Hill closed in on a vote on healthcare reform. Aides said at the time that he wanted to stay and work the vote up until the very end. (LA Times)


Burma taking steps toward nuclear weapons programme according to report

(Washington Post) Burma has begun secretly acquiring key components for a nuclear weapons program, including specialised equipment used to make uranium metal for nuclear bombs, according to a report that cites documents and photos from a Burmese army officer who recently fled the country.

The smuggled evidence shows Burma’s military rulers taking concrete steps toward obtaining atomic weapons, according to an analysis co-written by an independent nuclear expert. But it also points to enormous gaps in Burmese technical know-how and suggests that the country is many years from developing an actual bomb.

The analysis, commissioned by the dissident groupDemocratic Voice of Burma, concludes with “high confidence” that Burma is seeking nuclear technology, and adds: “This technology is only for nuclear weapons and not for civilian use or nuclear power.”
“The intent is clear, and that is a very disturbing matter for international agreements,” said the report, co-authored by Robert E. Kelley, a retired senior U.N. nuclear inspector. Officials for the dissident group provided copies of the analysis to the broadcaster al-Jazeera, The Washington Post and a few other news outlets.

Hours before the report’s release, Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) announced that he was canceling a trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar, to await the details. “It is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit,” Webb, who chairs a Senate Foreign Relations panel on East Asia, said in a statement released by his office. “[But] until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma.”
There have been numerous allegations in the past about secret nuclear activity by Burma’s military rulers, accounts based largely on ambiguous satellite images and uncorroborated stories by defectors. But the new analysis is based on documents and hundreds of photos smuggled out of the country by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese major who says he visited key installations and attended meetings at which the new technology was demonstrated.


Investigation on Israel on

Turkey mourns Gaza activists

(bbc news) Turkey has held funerals for nine activists killed in Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid flotilla amid emotional scenes.
The bodies were flown from Israel to Istanbul, along with more than 450 activists, to a heroes’ welcome.
Israel has said there is no need for an international inquiry into the incident, insisting its own will meet the “highest international standards”.
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted earlier to set up an investigation.
US President Barack Obama has described the situation as “tragic”.
But in an interview on CNN, he also says Israel does have “legitimate security concerns” in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his troops had no choice but to stop the ships.
He argued the flotilla had been aiming not to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, but to break Israel’s blockade.
It was Israel’s duty to prevent rockets and other weapons being smuggled into Gaza to Hamas by Iran and others, he said.
Turkey, which has had relatively warm ties with Israel in recent history, recalled its ambassador after the incident on Monday.

‘Barbarism and

Its President, Abdullah Gul, said relations between the two countries would “never be the same”.
“This incident has left an irreparable and deep scar” on relations, he told reporters in Ankara.
In a fiery speech at Istanbul airport, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc accused Israel of “piracy” and “barbarism and oppression”.
Crowds of people, some wearing Palestinian-style scarves, gathered in the city to meet the coffins, swathed in Turkish flags, at the Ottoman-era Fatih mosque.
The funerals took place in a strongly Islamist part of the city and emotions were running high, reported the BBC’s Bethany Bell.

One of the bodies was due to be buried in Istanbul while the other eight were being taken to their home towns, AFP news agency reported.
Turkish post-mortem examinations found all nine of the dead had been shot, some at close range.
The dead include a 19-year-old Turkish citizen with an American passport - hit by four bullets in the head and one in the chest - and a national taekwondo athlete, Turkish media say.

The bodies arrived, along with the 450 activists, in three aircraft chartered by the Turkish government at Istanbul airport in the early hours of Thursday, after several hours of delays.
Mr Arinc said his government saluted the Turkish Islamic charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which played a leading role in organising the convoy - a charity Israel has accused of supporting terrorism.
IHH leader Bulent Yildrim said upon his arrival back in Istanbul that he believed the death toll could be higher than nine, as his organisation had a longer list of missing people.

Ruling party picks new leader to be Japanese PM

(Washington Post) Hours before he would become Japan’s latest prime minister, Naoto Kan received a memo from his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, that offered some advice that Hatoyama himself couldn’t follow.
“Please take care of Japan-U.S., Japan-China and Japan-South Korean relations,” wrote Hatoyama, who never managed in his short stint as premier to balance the needs of his own citizens and his closest ally.
Now Kan, Japan’s fifth leader in four years, will inherit the problems that those before him struggled to solve -- a nagging debt, a history of fiscal scandals and lingering questions about the fate of a U.S. Marine base on Okinawa.
The Democratic Party of Japan overwhelmingly elected Kan, the country’s finance minister, as its leader on Friday morning. Because the DPJ holds a majority in parliament, the vote all but secured Kan’s position as the next prime minister. He will formally take the position after the parliament votes later Friday.
Analysts in Japan said Kan would have to act quickly. He must select a new cabinet. Within weeks, ahead of a critical July election, he needs to stabilize his reeling party. And during the next months, he must articulate his position on the long-standing dispute over the Marine base -- an issue that has dominated Japanese politics and U.S.-Japan relations for months.
In a speech to party members Friday, Kan said he will emphasize a “Japan-U.S. relationship at its core while contributing for forward development in Asia.”
Kan draws on a background that contrasts with those of other recent Japanese prime ministers. He has a humble background and a history as an outspoken populist. He is the first premier since 1996 whose family didn’t make politics part of the family trade.
In the mid-1990s, he rose to prominence when, as health minister, he conducted a bold investigation that revealed how his own ministry had promoted the use of HIV-tainted blood for transfusions.
Recently, he broke from Hatoyama to call for Japan to explore a consumption-tax increase as protection against its debt.
“Kan is Mr. Clean. Kan is the citizen-activist -- he’s come to politics in that route,” Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a telephone interview.
“He took on the bureaucrats in the mid-’90s,” she said. “And I think, frankly, he’s proven himself to be a thoughtful policy guy. And Kan, in the last six months or so in the Cabinet, has looked very thoughtful and very steady.”
When Hatoyama and No. 2 leader Ichiro Ozawa resigned Wednesday, they departed a party -- elected only eight months earlier with unprecedented popularity -- with an approval rating in the teens. A Friday poll conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper indicated that Kan (38 percent) was the most popular choice as successor. The other two leading replacements for Hatoyama, Seiji Maehara and Katsuya Okada, threw their support behind Kan on Thursday.
Hatoyama’s resignation provided the DPJ a chance to regain popularity before the July 11 election for the upper house of parliament, where the party will try to maintain its commanding majority.
“First thing we must do is to gain trust from the public,” Kan said.
“Our society and economy are deadlocked,” he added, referencing problems in social welfare and the job market. “These are not natural phenomena. These are results of poor policies.”
Shinji Tarutoko, 50, who chairs the party’s environmental panel, also expressed interest in the prime minister’s job, but he received 129 party votes to Kan’s 291.

Geologists baffled by what to do with
giant Guatemala sinkhole

Scientists say filling the giant Guatemala sinkhole isn’t as simple as just dumping in gravel and dirt. First, geologists have to understand the conditions that caused it.
(CSMonitor) The giant sinkhole that opened up in Guatemala City Sunday has geologists scratching their heads and observers calling for better safety controls, but the more pressing issue: What do you do with a sinkhole?

Do you fill it? Will it get bigger? What caused it?
With smaller sinkholes often found in yards after rains, or as the result of digging, experts recommend dropping a concrete slab, gravel, or other solid material to the bottom of the hole, filling with clay-like soil, and finishing with topsoil. The material will usually settle, and it may be necessary to add more soil over time.

“You need to have some sort of mechanical structural support at the base of your fill material,” says Jim Currens, an expert on sinkholes, caves, and springs with the Kentuck Geological Survey.
But Guatemala’s sinkhole is on an exploded scale, and the geological makeup of the region makes predicting the cause and any effective remedies difficult.

The country has some experience with large sinkholes, as it turns out. In 2007, a 330-foot-deep sinkhole opened up in Barrio San Antonio, just 15 blocks away from the current one in Ciudad Nueva. That sinkhole is thought to have been caused by a broken storm drain pipe that over time weakened and washed away the ground above it.
The burst water pipe theory makes sense to Mr. Currens. “Any conduit carrying water is always an exasperative or causative factor,” he says.

Some believe the two Guatemala City sinkholes are linked to government neglect of the area, and are calling for better accountability so that something like this doesn’t happen again with worse results. “If there have now been two holes that have appeared along the same line, chances are there could be a third one developing elsewhere,” said Luis Figueroa, a journalist living in Guatemala.
But geological experts are cautious about assigning blame. Looking at photos of the most recent Guatemala sinkhole, it’s clear that there were preexisting conditions – an underground cavity that may have been present for generations, says Mark Kasmarek, a groundwater hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). “Once the roof of that cave becomes compromised through time, it can no longer support what’s on top of it,” he says.

Simply filling the hole won’t help, says Mr. Kasmarek, without first studying the geological makeup of the surrounding area to determine the underlying factors that caused the collapse.

North Korea: ‘War may break out at any moment’

The sinking of Seoul’s warship Cheonan fuelled tensions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The DPRK envoy accused the U.S. and South Korea of aggravating the situation.
(The Hindu) The Korean Peninsula could see a war break out at any time owing to the deteriorated situation there, a North Korean diplomat told a United Nations forum on Thursday.
“The present situation on the Korean Peninsula is so grave that a war may break out at any moment,” said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s envoy, Ri Jang Gon, to the Conference on Disarmament.
The diplomat blamed South Korea and the United States for aggravating the situation over the sinking of Seoul’s warship.
Those two countries, he charged, were seeking further sanctions against the isolated government in Pyongyang and “fabricated” the naval incident for that purpose.
The Cheonan corvette was sunk March 26 near the border between the Koreas. South Korea and an international team of investigators blamed North Korea for sinking the ship with a submarine-fired torpedo, killing 46 sailors.
U.S. ambassador to the conference, Laura Kennedy, said she too felt the situation was “very grave,” but rejected the north’s allegations.
“We certainly accept without a doubt the result that clearly indicated where the blame lay” for the sinking of the ship, Ms. Kennedy said in response.
The South Korean delegation took a similar stance, and rejected that his government fabricated the incident saying his northern counterpart was acting for “propaganda purposes.” “We believe there is no doubt at all about those investigation’s result and outcomes,” South Korean ambassador Im Han-taek said, charging that the sinking was a violation of the 1953 armistice agreement.

Pakistan bank governor resigns two days before budget

(BBCNEWS) Pakistan’s central bank governor has resigned citing “personal reasons”, the finance ministry has said.
News of Syed Salim Raza’s resignation comes two days before the announcement of the 2010-11 federal budget.
The finance ministry said he submitted his resignation on May 6. Correspondents say it is not clear why the news has only now been made public.
Deputy Governor Yaseen Anwar has been appointed by President Zardari as acting governor to replace Raza.
Ongoing tussle
“We don’t know what the reasons are for the resignation, but the timing of it can be worrisome,” economist Sayem Ali told the Reuters news agency.
“It is right before the budget is announced and relations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are in a bit of a difficult stage.”
Officials say there is a strong likelihood that Raza’s resignation was not solely due to personal reasons and that there was an ongoing tussle between him and the government.
Raza was appointed State Bank governor in January 2009 and would have left in February 2011 after reaching retirement age, which is 65 under State Bank law.
The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that many believe his was a controversial appointment and did not fit the relevant legal provisions.
The State Bank of Pakistan Act provides that the governor be appointed for a three-year term, which can be extendable for another three years.
Our correspondent says that because of his age, there was no way that Raza could have completed even his first three-year term.
A source told the BBC he resigned when his request for an extension was turned down by the government, which has the power to grant an extension of service to a capable incumbent beyond retirement age.
Correspondents say although he had little direct impact on the federal budget, Pakistan’s financial institutions have been under pressure from the IMF to make painful reforms.