LONDON BRIDGE ATTACK: Van steered into pedestrians, several killed

London – VIJAY SHAH via BBC News

Six people have been murdered and at least 48 have been injured after a terrorist atrocity on the world-famous London Bridge and Borough Market late yesterday, the BBC reports. Police gunned down the three attackers, all men, after a white van was deliberately crashed into pedestrians out and about on the bridge at 10.00 pm. The vehicle was then said to have proceeded to nearby Borough Market, where the three attackers got out and began stabbing random people, including one identified as a police officer.

Little is known about the assailants at this point, but eyewitnesses reported that they were wearing fake bomb vests.

The UK’s prime minister Theresa May described the events as ‘dreadful’, while opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who heads the Labour party, condemned the incident as ‘brutal and shocking’, the BBC reported. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan said that the attack was a “deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners”.  The mayor also said that London would always be a safe global city and that Londoners would not be cowed by terrorism.

 

 

The country is still recovering from a suicide attack in Manchester last month that saw 22 people killed by a lone bomber at a Ariana Grande pop music concert at the city’s Manchester Arena. Many of the victims were children. In March this year, six people died in London after a lone wolf terrorist rammed his car into bystanders at Westminster Bridge, before stabbing a brave police officer to death as he tried to attack the UK’s parliament in central London.

London’s Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said it was believed there were only three attackers involved and the explosive vests they were wearing were “hoaxes”.

One of the dead terrorists was reported by an eyewitness lying on the ground near a Borough Market drinking establishment, the vest visible in the body’s vicinity.

The BBC also reported that eighty medics were sent to the scene of the attacks, which were closed off and swarming with police and ambulances, according to television news coverage witnessed by the author of this article at around 11.00 pm last night.

A reporter working for the BBC, named as Holly Jones, saw a van being driven at 50 to 60 miles per hour head across the bridge just before the incident. She told the BBC: “He swerved right round me and then hit about five or six people. He hit about two people in front of me and then three behind”

Another eyewitness, identified only as Robbie, was sitting in a taxi opposite the Barrowboy and Banker pub on London Bridge. He told BBC Radio 5 Live, a national radio station: I saw about 20 or 30 people rushing to get back into the pub and five seconds later a big white van came screeching down the pavement,” 

“Two or three people jumped out. Initially, I thought it was a road traffic incident and the people had jumped out to see if anyone was injured, but I could tell immediately, they looked very aggressive.”

His friend Josh came out of the pub a few seconds later and saw people running up to the bridge from Borough Market.

“A chap (man) ran up and I heard him shout, ‘He’s got a knife, he’s stabbing people.'”

Another witness, Gerard, told the BBC: “They were running up shouting, ‘This is for Allah.’ They stabbed this girl maybe 10 times, 15 times. She was going, ‘Help me, help me.'”

Gerard said he chased the attackers, who were running into pubs and bars, and threw bottles, chairs and other items to try to stop them.

Steven Gibbs, who was drinking in St Christopher’s Inn, just metres from the scene, told the BBC: “A black cab drove past and the driver shouted, ‘Terrorist attack, run!’

“I stood up to take a look and then all of a sudden there were gunshots. Lots of people were screaming.”

Many of the injured, some in ‘critical condition’, have been sent to five nearby hospitals. The city’s police have set up hotlines and a casualty bureau for people to check up on loved ones. The bureau can be reached by calling 0800 096 1233 and 020 7158 0197 (+44 20 7158 0197 from outside the UK).

The area around Borough Market and the bridge was hastily placed on lockdown, with local pubs, bars and restaurants remaining closed. A police bomb disposal team was drafted in for fear the attackers had explosives with them. London Bridge itself and nearby Southwark Bridge are closed, along with major local thoroughfares such as Borough High Street and Lower Thames Street. Trains have been barred from stopping at the nearest Underground station, also called London Bridge.

Police investigations are still ongoing.

SOURCES:

Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/

“London attack: Seven killed in vehicle and stabbing incidents” – BBC News – UK (4 June 2017) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40146916

IMAGE CREDIT:

tabi3live, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/6_basharrdp

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STADIUM STAMPEDE: 17 killed in crush at Angolan football stadium

Uíge, ANGOLA
VIJAY SHAH via BBC News

The BBC reported yesterday that 17 people have been killed after a stampede at a football stadium in the town of Uíge in Angola, according to local officials.

Hundreds of injuries, of which five people were seriously injured, from the crush have also been reported, after fans rushed the stadium entrance after they were prevented from entering. Many of the deaths resulted from people falling to the ground or being trapped, then suffocated, according to a medic on the scene.

 

© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The stadium, in the north of Angola was hosting a match between Santa Rita de Cassia, the home team and visiting side Recreativo do Libolo. The match was so sought after that the venue quickly filled to its 8,000 seat capacity, when more fans began to show up at the gates demanding entry. They were prevented from entering the stadium as it was full. As people began to storm the gates, fatalities started mounting.

Ernesto Luis, the general director of Uíge’s main hospital, told the Reuters news agency that “Some people had to walk on top of other people. There were 76 casualties, of whom 17 died,”

Recreativo do Libolo released a statement regarding the incident on their website, stating that it was “a tragedy without precedent in the history of Angolan football”.

One eyewitness, named by the BBC as Domingos Vika, reported that the stadium’s entrance was already overcrowded, when more fans began ‘pouring in’ sparking the crush.

“When they gave the opportunity for everyone to come in, we were all packed at the gate,” said Mr Vika, who left the venue with a broken hand.

Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has ordered an investigation into the incident, local media have reported.

SOURCES:
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/VShah1984
Bitcoin Sportsbook, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/SportsbookBTC
“Angola stadium stampede in Uige kills 17” – BBC News – World – Africa (10 February 2017) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-38939723
IMAGE CREDIT:
“File:Fans of the Angolan national football team in Cologne.jpg” – Raimond Spekking, Wikimedia Commons (11 June 2006) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fans_of_the_Angolan_national_football_team_in_Cologne.jpg © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

VENEZUELA CRISIS: President Maduro threatens to seize defunct factories, punish owners

Caracas, VENEZUELA
VIJAY SHAH via BBC

The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, whose country is experiencing a crisis in electricity and other materials, has passed a new decree enabling his government to seize control of underperforming or closing factories and jail their owners, BBC News reports.

As Venezuela’s economy continues to slump, President Maduro held a meeting with supporters in the capital Caracas. He told them that the country needed to sort out the crisis and to ramp up levels of manufacturing. This past Friday, Maduro had also brought in a nationwide state of emergency as Venezuela suffers food and electricity shortages. Maduro told observers that the state of emergency was needed to counteract ‘foreign aggression’, although the BBC report does not say which countries were responsible. He also said that the country was being held to ransom by business leaders opposed to Maduro’s left-wing rule.

Maduro said: “We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralysed by the bourgeoisie,”

“Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV [Venezuelan General Penitentiary],” he said.

“We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other… to defend this sacred land,” he added.

The state of emergency announced recently builds on the emergency measures Maduro instituted in January this year. The original plan was to keep the situation in place for the next three months, but in reality it may not end until 2017.

He did not specify if there would be limits to other constitutional rights but he said the decree would provide “a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people.”

A previous state of emergency was implemented in states near the Colombian border last year.

It suspended constitutional guarantees in those areas but did not suspend guarantees related to human rights, the BBC said. Venezuela’s minister for communications and information, Luis Jose Marcano, said the state of emergency would enable the government to better distribute rations and tackle the crisis more easily. He also said that it would also enable the government to deal with perceived threats from ‘armed groups’ and protect public order. Opponents fear the emergency could be used by the Maduro administration to stifle free speech in the country.

Opponents of the president have been holding rallies in Caracas demanding he step down, pushing for a ‘recall vote’ to push him out of power. The government’s opposition in the Venezuelan parliament have submitted a petition with 1.8 million signatures calling for a referendum on Maduro, but National Electoral Board has not yet verified the voters’ signatures. Opponents have chided the Board for being ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ and that it is deliberately procrastinating. The referendum cannot happen until the petition moves onto the next stage and acquires another 4 million signatures.

At the Saturday anti-Maduro rally in Caracas, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said: “We want a country without queues, where we can find medicines. We want change.”

He described Venezuela as a “time bomb that can explode at any given moment”. Fellow opponent Marisol dos Santos warned there would be a ‘social explosion’ of massive popular unrest if President Maduro refused to honour the recall vote and referendum results, should they happen.

In the light of the emergency situation, the Venezuelan leader also announced the start of military exercises from next weekend to guard the country against unspecified foreign threats.

Though Venezuela is one of South America’s largest oil producers, it has been weakened by falls in global oil prices. Financial analysis showed that its economy contracted by 5.7% in 2015, with the inflation rate at a shocking 180% so far.

Citizens are struggling to obtain basic necessities such as food, medicines, and utilities. Nicolas Maduro attributed this to the United States and local business leaders attempting to undermine his government via a covert economic war. A photo released by the BBC shows people queueing outside a store to buy rationed goods. The crisis has forced the government to bring in a four-day working week to save on electricity. Water is also being rationed, adding to the woes of the ordinary Venezuelan.

The threat to seize closed-down factories came after Venezuela’s largest edibles manufacturer, Grupa Polar, stopped producing beer, accusing the government for preventing it importing barley, a key ingredient of the drink. The group is owned by billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza, who is a fierce critic of President Maduro, according to the BBC.

SOURCES:
Google News – World Edition https://news.google.com/news/section?cf=all&pz=1&ned=uk&topic=w&siidp=d6c5bae49fa7e10b0015a3b6f5cbe77011e8&ict=ln&ar=1463303214
“Venezuela crisis: Maduro threatens seizure of closed factories” – BBC – News – World – Latin America (15 May 2016) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36294939
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Getty Images via Zemanta.

BORIS NEMTSOV: Russian opposition leader gunned down

The politician Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader serving in Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has been shot dead in Moscow, the European news division of the BBC reports.

The country’s officials say that Nemtsov, who once served as deputy prime minister, was killed yesterday in Moscow while travelling around the city by foot. The BBC reports that unidentified attackers passing by in a car shot four times into Nemtsov’s back as he crossed a bridge near the Kremlin, police in Moscow said.

According to the BBC, Nemtsov was with a friend, and was crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge when the drive-by shooting took place at 11:40 pm local time (8:40 pm GMT) yesterday (27 February 2015), said the Interior Ministry. He was shot with a pistol from a white car of unknown make and model. The attackers then promptly fled the scene, a police source told Russia’s Interfax news agency. Meduza, a news website, added that several people left the vehicle to gun down Nemtsov. His death was formally confirmed by a colleague of his RPR-Parnassus party, Ilya Yashin. Flowers were left at the site of his killing on the bridge and tributes to the slain politician were coming in via social media since yesterday night’s incident. 

He was murdered only hours after giving a speech offering his support for a march in Moscow against the conflict in Ukraine which was due to take place tomorrow. In his last tweet, Mr Nemtsov sent out an appeal for Russia’s divided opposition to unite at an anti-war march he was organising for Sunday.

If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,” he wrote.

Russia’s controversial President, Vladimir Putin, expressed outrage at the killing of Boris Nemtsov, and condemned his murder, according to a source associated with the Kremlin. President Putin is said to have taken ‘personal control’ of the investigation into the killing, said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to news outlets.

Investigators charged with uncovering the motive for Nemtsov’s shooting have said that the perpetrators may have been attempting to create instability inside Russia. The investigative committee said in a freshly-released report that a number of possibilities are being considered, including that the former deputy prime minister was murdered on the orders of Islamist extremists, but there is no evidence to support any theory at the current time.

Putin’s equivalent in the United States, President Barack Obama also condemned the “brutal murder” and asked Russian lawmakers to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation“. The President of UkrainePetro Poroshenko, whose country is currently battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Luhansk (Lugansk) and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, described Mr. Nemtsov as a “bridge between Ukraine and Russia“, according to the BBC.

The murderers’ shot has destroyed it. I think it is not by accident,” Poroshenko commented in a statement published on his administration’s Facebook page.

While there is no suggestion that the Putin administration has anything to do with Nemtsov’s murder, the politician himself, who had served under President Boris Yeltsin‘s administration in the 1990s, had recently given an interview where he voiced that Putin would have him killed for speaking out against the Ukrainian war, which Russia is accused of secretly funding and arming. Nemtsov’s lawyer claimed the politician was receiving death threats via social media for his opposition of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and for its annexation of Crimea last year, which brought the country international condemnation. 

Nemtsov’s career also included working in economics and serving as governor of the city of Nizhny Novgorod. He fell out of favour with Vladimir Putin soon after the latter was elected and subsequently Nemtsov became an opposition politician.

Fully known as Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov, was born in the Olympic city of Sochi in Russia’s Caucasus region in 1959. He graduated from the State University of Gorky in the field of physics in 1985. After earning his PhD, Nemtsov worked as a research fellow at the Gorky Radio-Physics Research Institute (NIRFI) until entering politics in 1989 as the Soviet era was drawing to a close. He allied himself with fellow reformists in the Russian parliament and soon became a confidante of reformist president Boris Yeltsin. By 2004, and marginalised by the new Putin government, Nemtsov began to speak out against what he saw as the increasing clampdown on newly-won freedoms by the President, and that ‘Putinists’, the president’s loyalists, were leading Russia towards a dictatorship. Nemtsov made his opposition to Putin and his politics very clear. He was arrested by police in November 2007 during one such protest against Putin. 

The Russian president himself had accused Nemtsov of being involved with corruption. During Nemtsov’s tenure as director and chairman of a small Russian financial institution, Neftyanoi Bank, which was involved with the country’s burgeoning oil industry, investigators were called in following allegations of fraud and money laundering, which forced Nemtsov to step down from his positions at Neftyanoi. On 16 December 2010, Putin stated, in a live television broadcast, that during the 1990s, Nemtsov was friendly with the billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who had been sent to prison and who later fled Russia. Putin accused him of ‘dragging around billions’ of Russian oil money.

Nemtsov was just fifty-five years of age at the time of his killing. He was married with four children.

SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
“Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov shot dead” – Sarah Rainsford and contributors, BBC News Europe/BBC (28 February 2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31669061
“Boris Nemtsov” – Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Nemtsov
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

 

NPOWER: UK utility company says sorry for messing up bills

The British energy firm Npower has made a formal apology in writing to its 3.4 million gas and electricity customers after experiencing ‘problems’ with its utility billing system, according to a report by BBC News.

An investigation by a consumer watchdog in November found that customers of Npower were five times more likely to criticise them than those with rival firms such as British GasEDF and SSE.

NPower Logo
NPower Logo (Photo credit: Cyberslayer)

Npower reacted to the investigation by promising to clean up its act with tackling numerous problems over account set-ups, direct debit payments for bills and the billing system itself.

As the furore over austerity cutbacks for ordinary working people as well as the unemployed continues unabated, Npower as well as other major players in the United Kingdom’s utilities sector have been accused of profiteering. Many of the companies have hiked bills by as much as 15%, claiming that meeting new green energy laws and the rising price of wholesale gas have forced them to do so. Yet many energy customers have seen a decline in living standards and earned income, making higher bills a bigger strain on living expenses. People on low incomes have been forced to avoid using their gas and electricity, and it has been reported that last winter alone, up to 31,000 elderly and disabled people died due to lack of warmth.

The government have threatened to intervene to cap the rises and to force energy companies to automatically recommend the cheapest tariff to new and existing customers.

Npower have promised to make a donation of £1 million to a charity supporting vulnerable customers, as it tries to weather the growing public criticism of corporate ineptitude and perceived greed by energy company shareholders and bosses. The donation is being made to the company’s own Health Through Warmth Scheme Crisis Fund. The fund supports vulnerable homeowners with cold-related illnesses such as arthritis and pneumonia who cannot afford to pay for their home’s heating repairs and installations.

(c) Brendan Wood via Flickr

Npower has increased the average dual fuel bill for its customers by 10.4 % earlier this month, a move that has been derided by consumer groups protesting against unaffordable bills, while inefficiencies with its billing system have seen customer complaints soar. The company has received and recorded 202 complaints about its services per 100,000 customers for the period of April-June 2013, based on a recent figure reported by watchdog Consumer Futures. Its rate of complaints was the highest among the ‘Big Six‘ energy outfits, with the nearest runner-up, EDF (Electricite de France) only receiving 75 complaints per 100,000 subscribers. The company with the lowest complaint rate was SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) with just 38 per 100,000. Most of Npower’s complaints were due to complications with the new billing system the company had introduced to manage its customers’ accounts.

In recent months, we have let many of our domestic customers down and I wanted to write to each of them personally to say sorry,” said Npower’s chief executive, Paul Massara.

We have been in discussions with [regulator] Ofgem and are working on this as our top priority. Although we’ve made good progress fixing many of the underlying issues, we still have a long way to go, and our customers deserve to get the best possible service.

Energy regulator Ofgem has responded to Npower’s issue by welcoming the utility company’s move to address the billing problem, having previously raised concerns over its performance and handling of customers’ billing and service issues. Spokesperson Sarah Harrison said “Many Npower customers will have noticed a serious deterioration in service levels over the last year,

We are pleased to see Npower’s leadership team focusing on this issue, acknowledging the scale of the problem and sharing with customers its action plan to put things right.

It is not known when Npower are expected to fix the faults in their billing system although development and testing work is on-going. EDF Energy is also under the spotlight by Ofgem over its handling processes for customer complaints, and will have to answer to an extended investigation by the regulator.

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SOURCES:
Vijay Shah { विजय } on Twitter LINK
Steve Clark on Twitter LINK
“Energy firm Npower apologises for billing errors” – BBC News Business/BBC (3 December 2013) LINK
IMAGE CREDIT:
“my power bill” – Brendan Wood, Flickr (28 May 2006) LINK  <CC Licence LINK>