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Anger and grief as Cambodia mourns stampede dead

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 6:19 am

 Grieving Cambodian families on Wednesday began paying their last respects to relatives among the nearly 380 victims killed in a festival stampede, as anger built over security at the event.

Authorities were probing why the throngs of revellers had panicked at the annual water festival, crushing and trampling people underfoot on an overcrowded narrow bridge in Phnom Penh.

The government admitted it had overlooked issues of crowd control at the three-day event, which attracted some three million revellers to the capital from all over Cambodia.

“We were concerned about the possibilities of boats capsizing and pick-pocketing. We did well, but we did not think about this kind of incident,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP.

Cambodian Buddhist monks gather to pray for victims of the stampede in front of the bridge in Phnom Penh on November 23, 2010

A committee had been set up to investigate the cause of the stampede, he said, adding that a private security firm was in charge of the main festival site Diamond Island and its bridges.

“The place is private, so they used their own security, and police only helped handle order outside,” Kanharith said.

As the first funerals and cremations began taking place across the country, bewildered relatives searched for answers.

“I feel very sad and angry about what happened,” Phea Channara said at a funeral service for his 24-year-old sister on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

“I wonder if the police really did their job. Why did they allow it to happen in the first place?”

Hun Sangheap — who was on the bridge minutes before the stampede happened and helped pull out victims — said the rescuers were slow to respond to the incident.

“The authorities were very late in saving the victims. The company did not manage the security well,” the 32-year-old said, referring to the island’s private security firm.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has described the disaster as Cambodia’s worst tragedy since the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1979 reign of terror, which left up to a quarter of the population dead. Thursday will be a national day of mourning.

At least 378 people were killed in the stampede and another 750 were injured, government spokesman Phay Siphan told AFP on Tuesday.

Exuberant festival-goers had been crossing the bridge to reach an island hosting concerts, food stalls and ice sculptures before the crowd turned to a deadly crush of writhing and then lifeless human bodies.

In scenes replicated across the city, the dead were laid out in rows under a white tent erected in Calmette Hospital car park, their uncovered faces showing that many had sustained bloody bruises during the stampede.

Military trucks later began delivering the victims back to their relatives.

It was not immediately clear what had triggered the disaster, but Kanharith said a rumour had spread among revellers celebrating one of Cambodia’s biggest festivals that the bridge was unstable.

He said many of the deaths were caused by suffocation and internal injuries, adding that about two-thirds of those killed were women.

One survivor at Calmette Hospital who suffered serious back injuries recalled the anguish of being unable to help others around him as the surging crowd became a suffocating crush.

“I felt selfish when it happened, but I could not help myself. There was a child trapped under me and I wanted to pull him up but I couldn’t,” he said, asking not to be named.

The stampede marked a tragic end to the boat races, concerts and fireworks that are traditionally part of the annual festival to celebrate the reversal of the flow between the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers.

The event — which saw hundreds of brightly coloured boats take part in races on the Tonle Sap — is popular with tourists but the government said no foreigners were believed to be among the victims.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Cambodia earlier this month, offered her country’s “thoughts and prayers” following the disaster. Other countries to send their condolences include Russia, and Asian neighbours Thailand and Singapore.

Source: SGGP

Protesters vent anger against China at Japan APEC venue

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2010 at 9:54 am

BP’s Hayward ignites fresh US anger as he heads for the exit

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 3:17 am

LONDON, July 28, 2010 (AFP) – BP’s outgoing chief executive Tony Hayward was the target of fresh US anger Wednesday after claiming he had been “demonised and vilified,” threatening efforts to draw a line under the Gulf oil spill.

The comments by Hayward, who resigned Tuesday following his heavily criticised handling of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, drew renewed criticism from Washington as BP struggles to restore its reputation after the spillage.

Ships assist in clean up and containment near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill July 27, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. AFP

“I don’t think that a lot of people in any country are feeling overly sorry for the former CEO of BP,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Hayward’s departure was a drastic move by the oil giant to rebuild its image in the aftermath of the spill that is set to cost the British group 32 billion dollars.

He will be succeeded by Bob Dudley, who is in charge of BP’s Gulf clean-up operations and who has vowed to “change the culture” of how the company tackles safety issues.

BP also said Tuesday it had made a record 16.9-billion-dollar loss in the second quarter, and will sell 30 billion dollars of assets over the next 18 months as it seeks to return to profitability.

“This is a very sad day for me personally,” Hayward told a conference call.

“Whether it is fair or unfair is not the point. I became the public face and was demonised and vilified. BP cannot move on in the US with me as its leader.”

But Gibbs hit back: “What’s not fair is what has happened on the Gulf, what is not fair is that the actions of some have caused the greatest environmental disaster that our country has ever seen.”

Hayward was also the target of fresh anger in the United States over a separate matter — his decision to snub a US Senate hearing into BP’s alleged role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said the hearing, originally scheduled to take place Thursday, had been postponed after key witnesses, including Hayward, had refused to attend.

He accused the BP executive of only being interested in his “multi-million-dollar golden parachute.”

Under his contract, Hayward will receive one year’s salary, worth 1.045 million pounds (1.245 million euros, 1.620 million dollars). He also has a pension pot totalling 11 million pounds.

In its results Tuesday, BP was pushed into the red by the 32.2 billion dollars set aside to pay for the costs of the spill — which was the worst environmental disaster in US history.

BP and Hayward have been mauled by Washington since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and unleashing millions of gallons of crude into the sea and onto the US Gulf coast.

It has taken more than three months to stem the Gulf of Mexico oil flow. Up to four million barrels (170 million gallons) of crude have escaped.

The catastrophe has destroyed vital tourism, fishing and oil industries in the five US Gulf coast states and left BP facing soaring clean-up and compensation costs.

Hayward will step down on October 1, and will remain a BP board member until November 30, but has meanwhile been nominated as a non-executive director of Russian joint venture TNK-BP.

Dudley will become BP’s first American chief executive following the resignation.

“I think sometimes events like this shake you to the core, the foundation, and you have two responses,” Dudley said in an TV interview with ABC News, in reference to the oil disaster.

“One is to run away and hide, the other is to respond and really change the culture of the company and make sure all the checks and balances are there, just to make sure this does not happen again.”

Dudley added that his top priority was to permanently seal the Gulf well, contain the crude spill and to clean up and restore the area’s beaches. The group finally capped the leak on July 15.

BP’s share price has plunged about 40 percent since the explosion — wiping tens of billions of dollars off the group’s market value. BP shares closed down 2.63 percent at 406 pence in London.

Hayward, 53, had already handed over day-to-day management of the crisis in June to Dudley, as criticism mounted over his gaffe-prone handling of the disaster.

Hayward enraged Gulf residents when he said in a May 18 interview that the environmental impact of the spill would be “very, very modest.”

Then on May 30 he was seen as insensitive to the families of the dead rig workers when he said he wanted the disaster over with so he could have his “life back”.

Source: SGGP

Anger, sadness, questions after German Love Parade tragedy

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

DUISBURG, Germany, July 26, 2010 (AFP) – Flags in the mourning German city of Duisburg flew at half mast Monday as investigators probed allegations over lax safety measures at a techno festival where a stampede killed 19 people.

Officials said seven foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Bosnia and Spain, were among those killed on Saturday at the Love Parade in the small city in western Germany. More than 340 people were injured.

Outlines of bodies can be seen at the entrance to the tunnel where panic broke out in a tunnel during the Loveparade in Duisburg. AFP

Deputy police chief Detlef von Schmeling said the victims, aged between 20 and 40, died as they scrambled to escape from a crush in a narrow, 100-metre (yard) tunnel that served as the only entrance.

Television pictures showed lifeless bodies being passed over the heads of those frantically trying to escape.

“I saw dead people in the tunnel, others alive but unconscious on the ground,” said Anneke Kuypers, an 18-year-old from New Zealand. “Others were crying.”

German-born Pope Benedict XVI and Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed their horror over the catastrophe, as the German leader called for a “very intensive investigation”.

“This was a very, very dreadful and sad day,” Merkel said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that something like this never happens again.”

But shock quickly turned to anger as furious survivors demanded explanations for why security plans could went so wrong and reports emerged that authorities had been warned beforehand that Duisburg was too small for the event.

At the entrance to the tunnel, where dozens of candles and an impromptu remembrance board with hundreds of signatures marked the dead, there were angry messages for the organisers.

“This event should never have taken place here,” read one. “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” another message read.

Monday’s edition of the daily Stadt-Anzeiger in nearby Cologne said the mayor had been warned in writing in October 2009 that the grounds were too narrow for the expected crowds but that their concerns went unheeded.

Spiegel magazine said on its website that the festival only had authorisation for 250,000 revellers instead of for 1.4 million people who organisers had expected beforehand to attend.

The mayor, Adolf Sauerland, said the investigation had been passed to prosecutors but defended what he said was a “solid security plan.”

“I know that everyone wants an answer to the question ‘why?’ and this must be cleared up. But I ask for people not to jump to premature judgements,” Sauerland told angry reporters at a charged news conference.

Germany’s police union chief, Rainer Wendt, also attacked the planning, telling mass circulation Bild: “At the end of the day, the city and the organisers are to blame for this tragedy.”

“I warned one year ago that Duisburg was not a suitable place for the Love Parade. The city is too small and narrow for such events,” Wendt said.

With several questions still unanswered, one thing was clear: the tragedy of the 2010 Love Parade will not be repeated.

Chief organiser Rainer Schaller said the popular event, one of the biggest techno festivals in Europe, would not be held again “out of respect for the victims and their families.”

First hosted in Berlin in 1989 just months before the fall of the Wall, the Love Parade left the capital in 2007 after disagreements with city authorities over logistics and security and has since been held in several other German cities.

Source: SGGP

Anger mounts as oil blackens Louisiana marshes, beaches

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2010 at 9:21 am

Anger mounted Sunday as heavy oil blackened Louisiana’s marshes and beaches and efforts to cap the oil which has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a month ran into more delays.

Initially scheduled to begin on Sunday, BP’s latest attempt to cap a leak in a ruptured pipe 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface is not expected to get underway until Tuesday at the earliest.

Crews used submarine robots Saturday to position equipment for the “top kill” attempt to plug the leak with heavy mud and then seal it with cement.

“There’s a lot of staging that must go on — on the surface of the water as well as on the seafloor — testing, getting the mud and the ship staged,” BP spokesman John Curry told AFP.

But while a fleet of skimmers did its best to contain the huge slick which has spread across the gulf and begun to make its way towards Florida, oil washed past protective booms and continued to sully miles of Louisiana’s coastline.

An oil-covered crab crawls on the beach on Grand Isle, Louisiana. Anger was mounting as heavy oil blackened Louisiana’s marshes and beaches and efforts to cap the oil which has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a month met with more delays

Susan Villiers, 52, stared with frustration at the empty waters as she walked along the oil-soaked beach of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

“Everybody is angry because they want to see action,” said Villers, who has three fishing boats sitting idle because of the spill.

“They want to see boats deploying booms and nothing’s happening.”

With the federal government facing accusations of lax supervision of lucrative offshore oil drilling, President Barack Obama vowed to hold Washington accountable and warned that the future of the industry hinges on assurances that such a disaster “never happens again.”

Obama hinted for the first time that a criminal investigation could be launched as he unveiled a presidential commission aimed at probing the “root causes” of the spill.

He noted concerns about the “cozy relationship between oil and gas companies and agencies that regulate them” and said the “disaster was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton.”

Obama gave the bipartisan presidential commission six months to report its findings and provide recommendations on how the oil industry can prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills.

“If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn’t enforce those laws — I want to know it,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday.

“I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down.”

Some 1,100 vessels, over 24,900 personnel and more than two million feet of protective boom have been deployed so far by BP and federal, state and local agencies.

They have recovered over 9.7 million gallons of oily water so far. BP says it has already spent over 700 million dollars on the cleanup.

But for parts of the Gulf Coast’s fragile ecosystem, it was all too little, too late.

A viscous blackish-orange slick sloshed ashore Grand Isle, Louisiana, forcing officials to close its popular tourist beach.

Volunteers armed with spades were locked in a desperate battle to scoop up the oil into plastic bags.

“It was dirty at 6:00 am. We cleaned it up. When we came back from lunch it just looked exactly the same,” said Eric Thomson, 19, wearing a white safety helmet, black boots and dark glasses under the hot sun.

In another setback, authorities dealing with the spill have concluded that so-called hair booms were insufficiently effective at soaking up the oil from the sea.

The officials were now asking people and organizations not to use hair for that purpose, even as an ooze of oil washed into coastal wetlands.

“One problem with the hair boom is that it became waterlogged and sank within a short period of time,” explained Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Even at the lowest estimates, more than six million gallons of crude have soiled Gulf waters since the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig sank spectacularly some 52 miles offshore on April 22, two days after an explosion that claimed 11 workers’ lives.

Just how much oil is gushing from the rig’s wreckage has been a major point of contention, with BP initially putting the figure at 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

Independent experts examining video of the ruptured pipe have estimated that the flow from the two leaks could be as high as 120,000 barrels per day.

BP is currently suctioning up an average of about 2,100 barrels of oil a day with a mile-long tube inserted into the ruptured pipe.

It will take at least two months for relief wells to be completed and hopes of stopping the flow are currently pinned on a “top kill” operation.

Source: SGGP

Greece rushes austerity cuts as anger builds

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

A man passes by a shop window in downtown Athens. (AFP photo)

ATHENS (AFP) – Greece’s socialist government rushed on Monday to push through parliament a fresh round of spending cuts in the face of public anger at the price to pay for the 110-billion-euro international bailout.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has insisted the austerity package was essential to secure the joint eurozone-International Monetary Fund rescue package.

But Greek unions have vowed to battle the drastic round of austerity measures, worth some 30 billion euros (40 billion dollars) that include deep cuts to wages and pensions.

Union leaders have flagged up a general strike Wednesday as the first stage in resistance to the government’s austerity programme.

The government is to present the new austerity measures to parliament late Monday or Tuesday and aims to get a vote on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, an official said.

Newspapers said the day after the cuts were unveiled that they marked the end of an era in Greece and beginning of years of painful sacrifice.

“Our way of life, of working, consuming and organising our lives in this part of the Balkans is finished since yesterday,” the pro-governmental Ta Nea newspaper said in an editorial.

The main headline of the independent left-leaning Eleftherotypia read “Four years without a breath…”

Papandreou, in a speech to his cabinet Sunday, made it clear the cuts would run deep: but he was clear too about what he believed was at stake.

“I know that with the decisions today our citizens must suffer greater sacrifices,” he said.

“The alternative however would be catastrophe and greater suffering for us all.”

The 110-billion-euro bailout to dig Greece out of its debt crisis is bigger than the deal agreed to salvage bankrupt Argentina in the 1990s.

European governments endorsed the deal at a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Sunday, although the parliaments of some of the 16 eurozone countries involved, notably France and Germany, still need to approve it.

The first installment of the eurozone-IMF rescue package would then be paid within the next few weeks, with the rest spread over three years and conditional on the cuts and tax rises in Greece.

That should mean the first payment will be in the Greek coffers ahead of the May 19 deadline for nine billion euros of debt repayments.

IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Sunday that the Fund’s executive board was set to approve its part of the deal, 30 billion euros, within the week.

“The authorities’ program is designed with fairness in mind,” he said of the government’s cuts. It would include more progressive taxation; a clampdown on tax evasion with closer checks on the rich.

Athens would also exempt the most vulnerable from cuts in wages and pensions, said Strauss-Kahn. And there would be a “significant reduction” in military spending.

But Yannis Panagopoulos, president of the million-member strong GSEE union, denounced the government’s plan as the “most unfair and hardest measures in the modern history of Greece”.

The austerity plan would only “worsen the recession and plunge the economy into a deep coma”, he warned.

“It’s time to step up the social battle, our May 5 general strike will be the beginning of a long battle.”

In exchange for emergency loans, Greece has agreed the new cuts over three years with the aim of slashing the public deficit to less than three percent of output by 2014, from 13.6 percent last year.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said the government would scrap 13th and 14th month bonus wages for public sector workers and pensioners; raise the retirement age for women from 60 to 65, bringing it in line with that for men; and raise the sales tax from 21 percent to 23 percent this year.

Rocked by violent street protests at home, Greece has been under heavy pressure to cut a massive public deficit that has shaken the euro, rattled markets and sparked fears of contagion to other debt-ridden European countries.

But the euro slipped and Asian stocks tumbled in thin trading on Monday on doubts about the bailout.

The single European currency bought 1.3224 dollars at 0350 GMT in Asia, down from 1.3294 late in New York Friday, paring back early gains that saw it climb as high as 1.3332 dollars.

The European Central Bank meanwhile suspended criteria for Greek debt it accepts as collateral for loans of central bank funds, a major boost for the Greek government and banks.

The move, which is to remain in effect “until further notice”, means that banks in Greece and elsewhere will be able to keep getting ECB cash loans using government bonds and other marketable debt instruments as collateral despite their ratings by international agencies.

Source: SGGP