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
It hit them like a bomb blast, without warning, at the time
in the evening when the city’s residents like to begin
It started on Thursday night when an electricity transformer
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
|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
“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
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
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
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
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.
Turkey mourns Gaza
(bbc news) Turkey has held funerals for nine activists
killed in Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid flotilla amid
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
US President Barack Obama has described the situation as
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
Turkey, which has had relatively warm ties with Israel in
recent history, recalled its ambassador after the incident
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
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
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
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
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
|Ruling party picks new
leader to be Japanese PM
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
“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
“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
“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
“First thing we must do is to gain trust from the public,”
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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.
“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
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
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.