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.
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.
At least two mining accidents have been reported in China in the past week, causing the deaths of 38 miners in total, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported via Chinese state-owned media and the international Reuters news agency today.
As a rapidly industrialising country with a wealth of natural resources, the People’s Republic has seen hundreds of mines established to explore for coal, precious metals and other materials, but many mines are unlicensed and the country has a poor safety record generally, with fatal accidents a regular occurrence.
In the past five days, two fatal accidents have been reported. The first occurred in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, where an explosion at a privately owned coal mine killed 21 people, the national news agency Xinhua stated. The incident, which took place in the city of Qitaihe this past Tuesday, trapping 22 miners underground. There is believed to be one survivor and rescue work is still in process.
The second disaster occurred just today, when another coal mine exploded in the Inner Mongolia province on China’s northern border with Mongolia, killing 17. An undisclosed number of mine workers are also trapped, and rescue teams have reached the remote region to try and pull out survivors, according to Xinhua.
In breaking news, the Israeli English-language newspaper The Jerusalem Post reports via the Reuters news agency that Syrian forces, with backing from the American military have succeeded in taking back forty per cent of the city of Manbij, which was previously part of the self-declared ‘caliphate’ of Daesh (so-called Islamic State). The city lies in the Aleppo governorate, thirty miles from the Euphrates river in north Syria, and is around 40-50 kilometres from the Turkish border.
Manbij had witnessed heavy fighting and casualties in the past few months as the Syrian Democratic Army and other forces had tried to retake it, with the help of US Special Forces. New advances by the Syrian forces have meant non-Daesh fighters now control just under half of Manbij’s terrirtory.
The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a one-man observation post for activities inside Syria, said that soldiers from the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), with help from controversial US air strikes, had succeeded in wresting back control of the eastern flank of Manbij, after making some slow advances in the western part. The US is also working with local Kurdish peshmerga and Arab allies in moping up the heavy resistance of Daesh. The alliance formed last year and since then has engaged in a campaign for the past two months aimed at driving out Daesh from its territories straddling the Syrian-Turkish frontier. The Daesh’s proximity to the Turkish border has been a headache for the country, with Daesh militants crossing it to perpetrate bombings on Turkish soil and border villages and towns regularly hit by the group’s artillery.
Iran’s national news agencyIRNA released a statement today saying that the group of six world powers will give Iran support in reconfiguring the Arak heavy-water plant, 190 kilometres (120 miles) southwest of Tehran. The Arak facility will be converted so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium, the IRNA document said.
The official document was signed on separate days last week by the Iranian foreign minister plus his counterparts in the ‘P5+1’ group. The P5+1 countries and countersignatures are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany. The European Union also signed the document, represented by its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
The Arak plant was a spanner in the works for recent talks between Iran and the other world powers due to its weapons capabilities. The P5+1 group had concerns that Iranian possession of nuclear warheads would escalate tensions in the Middle East and that the Iranian government would use the weapons on Western ally Israel. The two countries have a longstanding hatred of each other and both have threatened to target each other with nuclear armaments in a hostile war of words.
Preparation at Arak will involve removal and decommissioning of the heavy-water reactor’s core to reduce Arak’s output of plutonium, meaning less material for a possible nuclear device, and a way for Iran to prove it is only using nuclear technology for peaceful means such as electricity generation. Doing so will also enable the Islamic Republic to free itself of the sanctions imposed by the US, EU and others.
The IRNA document states that Iran will hold the role of ‘project manager’. China will act as the plant’s re-designer and builder of the new reactor, while the United States will offer technical know-how and help review the redesigned facility to ensure it meets safety and negotiation-related guidelines. The Americans will be assisted in the review by France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Russia will also be involved, providing consulting services at Arak.
“The primary design of Arak reactor will take one year. Then the (P5+1) working group has three months to approve it,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency, was quoted as saying on Saturday by state broadcaster IRIB.
Iran had previously always insisted that the 40-megawatt plant had medical purposes, producing radioactive isotopes for use in cancer radiotherapy and not for manufacturing weapons-grade ‘fissile’ plutonium. The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had only agreed to the reconversion work at the Arak site if other countries at the negotiation table ceased insisting that Iran’s nuclear programme was being used under ‘past military dimensions’, in other words, that it was intended to create nuclear bombs. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is undertaking work on another plant at a military complex in Parchin at the moment, had collected samples from that facility will announce its own conclusions on possible military nuclear applications on Iran by the 15th December this year.
In the second day of violence in the French-speaking West African nation, five people were killed yesterday as Niger was gripped by religious violence stirred up by the publication of the cartoons in France, which have seen widespread condemnation by Muslim communities across the globe. Charlie Hebdo,a well-known satirical publication that frequently mocks politicians and religions, was the victim of an atrocity last week in which seventeen people, including the editor, Stephane Charbonnier alias Charb, several members of his cartoonists team and three police officers were gunned down by two brothers, the Kouachis, said to have links to Islamic State in Syria. Four shoppers were also taken hostage by another militant at a kosher supermarket, also in Paris, and were killed along with the militant, identified as Amedy Coulibaly, when police raided the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Vincennes on the 9th of January.
The magazine defied the militants by publishing a ‘survivors’ edition’ featuring a cartoon depiction of the founder of Islam crying under the words “Tout est pardonné” (“All is forgiven“). This edition led to numerous protests across the world by Muslims offended by the depiction of their prophet. Islam forbids the depiction of living things, especially Muhammad, as it can be seen as encouraging the unpardonable sin of idolatry. The Charlie Hebdo killings were roundly condemned by leaders of France’s 5 million-strong Muslim minority, many who have become the victims of Islamophobic revenge attacks in the wake of the militant attack last week.
Reporting from the Niger capital Niamey, Reuters journalists say the country has been rocked by two days of violence, and that the death toll has already reached ten. Gangs of youths were reported to have set fire to shops, businesses and places of worship belonging to Niger’s Christian community after a meeting of local Muslim community leaders was allegedly banned by the authorities. Police attempted to battle the rampage and contain the youths by using tear gas. The youths retaliated by throwing stones, before attacking a police station and torching two squad cars in the vicinity.
One of the protesters, named by Reuters as Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, was quoted as saying “They offended our Prophet Mohammad, that’s what we didn’t like,”
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou announced that the five killed on Saturday (17 January 2014) were all civilians. Four were burned to death inside blazing churches and bars selling alcoholic drinks. The Niger president said that an inquiry into the killings would take place and organisers of the riots would be apprehended and punished. “Those who pillage religious sites and profane them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots or foreigners who live on our soil, have understood nothing of Islam,” he said in a televised address.
President Issoufou, himself a Muslim, however disagreed with the publication of the Charlie Hebdo survivors’ issue saying that he shared the disgust and outrage of Muslims at the caricatures of their beloved prophet and that freedom of expression should be accountable of the need to respect religious beliefs. Charlie Hebdo has long attracted flak for lampooning Jews, Catholics and Muslims, but since the killings of its staff last week, the small Paris-based magazine has become a popular bastion of journalistic freedom of expression, including the controversial right to offend. Hundreds of thousands have identified themselves with the trending slogan “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie“) in solidarity with the slain journalists and protecting freedom of speech.
Issoufou was one of the participants last week of a march held in Paris against the atrocity, alongside many world politicians from opposing sides. Yesterday though, he said his participation in that march was to demonstrate his opposition to terrorism and not in support of the magazine itself.
After the riots, calm returned to the streets of Niamey by yesterday afternoon, but another planned march by the city’s Muslim community is feared to possibly re-ignite tensions. The civic authorities put a block on the march going ahead, but organisers have said they will defy the ruling and proceed anyway, possibly risking confrontation with local police and members of the Christian community.
Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns across Niger, including Maradi, 600 km (375 miles) east of Niamey, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in the eastern town of Goure.
The foreign minister of France, which once ruled Niger as an overseas colony, Laurent Fabius, roundly condemned the weekend violence in the country, stating “France expresses its solidarity with the authorities in Niger,” France currently maintains a battery of troops and defences in co-operation with Niger to battle against Islamist insurgencies in the neighbouring state of Mali as part of a regional counter-terrorism operation.
Four preachers of Islam who organised the meeting were arrested on Saturday as tensions began to flare, according to local police. The French government has warned its citizens living as expatriates in Niamey to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel.
Residents in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder said that a burned corpse was discovered in the remains of a Catholic church torched by rioters there, bringing the death toll to five from Friday’s clashes. Locals also claimed that wholesale attacks against Zinder’s Christians were instigated, with religious books, churches and minority-owned shops ransacked and set on fire. A French cultural centre was also set alight, and a police officer is among the dead, the rest are civilians, according to sources from the police.
In contrast with Niger, demonstrators in other Francophone west African nations, including Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, and in Algeria in North Africa, made peaceful protests against the Charlie Hebdo controversy after leaving their mosques after they finished Juma’a (Friday) prayers, Reuters reports.
Niger’s 17 million people are almost all Muslims, though its government remains secular. About 94% profess Islam, mostly of the Sunni branch. There are also communities professing Nigerien animism and Christianity.
International news agency Reuters has reported that a Russian television station has obtained photos that suggest the doomed Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down over the restive eastern part of Ukraine earlier this year with the loss of all 298 passengers and cabin crew on board, was the victim of a missile attack by a Ukrainian fighter jet, widely believed to be a Mig-29. The state-owned TV outlet broadcast what it claimed were ‘sensational” pictures allegedly taken by a Western satellite that purport to show the Boeing 777 being shot down by a Ukrainian air force plane, giving credence to Moscow’s theory that the Ukrainians perpetrated the atrocity.
Ukraine has vigorously denied any involvement in the shooting down of MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam’s Schiphol-Rijk Airport to Kuala Lumpur. Separatists fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, which are mainly populated by ethnic Russians, have agitated for closer union with Russia, and the Russian government has been accused of supplying fighters in eastern Ukraine with weaponry and troops, including powerful BUK surface-to-air rocket launchers capable of bringing down aircraft at an elevation of 30,000 feet. It has been claimed that such a BUK launcher was responsible for MH17, which the Putin government strenuously deny.
Several commentators who have studied the pictures have disputed the authenticity of the images, claiming them to be propaganda ‘forgeries’, Reuters reports. Witnesses who viewed the pictures describe them as showing a fighter jet firing a missile at a passenger plane at the same time as MH17 was flying over Ukrainian airspace. Moscow has claimed the pictures add weight to its theory that a jet in the employ of the Ukrainian Air Force ruptured the plane’s fuselage for reasons unknown, while Western military experts refute this, saying that there is evidence that a BUK missile manufactured and imported from Russia was fired by pro-Russian separatists, tearing holes in MH17’s fuselage and causing the plane to disintegrate mid-air and crash in a ball of flames.
The MH17 photographs were shown on a Friday evening show named “Odnako”, which stated that they had been forwarded to a Russian ‘expert’ by a man named George Bilt. Mr Bilt is said to be a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His specialism or field of study is not mentioned in the Reuters report, but further research suggests that he is an aviation expert with twenty years of experience.
Odnako is a Russian langauge programme broadcast by Channel One. A presenter with the station, Dmitry Borisov, spoke with Reuters about the Bilt images of MH17’s alleged final moments: “We have at our disposal sensational photographs presumably made by a foreign spy satellite in the last seconds of the Malaysian Boeing’s flight over Ukraine,“
“The pictures support that version which has hardly been heard in the West.“
Since Channel One aired the pictures at the end of last week, debates in Russia have begun on their authenticity, with many observers ridiculing them as staged fakes or having been manipulated with photo-alteration software.
Andrei Menshenin, a commentator for independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, called the TV report a “pseudo-sensation“, and said the angle of attack indicated by the photographs did not correspond to the location of the damage.
Bellingcat, a British investigative journalism website, described the photographs as “a crude fabrication“, highlighting what it said were several inconsistencies, which included signs that the photos had been partly derived from historical Google Earth mapping imagery dating from 2012 and sewn into the images. Several Russian media outlets are staunch supporters of President Vladimir Putin and are frequently accused of peddling a government-backed policy of overt nationalism, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian bias, and reporting news heavily influenced by sensationalism and propaganda which said to be sourced from the Kremlin itself.
In July, an opinion poll by the Levada Center polling agency said only three percent of Russians believed the Malaysian airliner was hit by rebels, with 82 percent saying it was shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces.
The publication of the photos came on the eve of a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, where President Vladimir Putin faces strong criticism from Western leaders for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including allegedly arming separatists and supplying weapons and troops. Russia had also recently invaded and annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea, an occupation not recognised by much of the international community.
The Reuters reports has not yet made any mention of the official Ukrainian response to the images.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the Ebola virus crisis in West Africa could be dangerously underestimated as families hide members afflicted by the highly fatal contagion for fear of quarantine and persecution, according to a report by America‘s Fox News. The warning also claims the existence of ‘shadow zones’ where medics have no presence, means that many people are carrying or perishing from the virus without medical agencies realising, making an effective response to the outbreak more challenging.
Since the middle of this year, more than a thousand people have died in the West African states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with possibly several thousand more infected or likely to be exposed to Ebola. The virus, first discovered in the 1970s, causes excessive sweating, fever and internal bleeding and kills between fifty and seventy per cent of the infected. It was believed to have originally spread to humans via the consumption of ‘bushmeat’ from apes which had themselves carried a different version of the virus. Ebola can easily be spread by coming into contact with an infected person’s body fluids, including sweat and blood and is extremely contagious. There is no known definite cure, although an experimental drug, ZMapp, which has not yet passed official human trials, has proved promising when it was used to treat infected Western medical staff in Sierra Leone. A state of emergency has already been declared in Liberia, with crematoriums struggling to cope with the influx of victims and relatives of Ebola carriers being forcibly quarantined in their homes. A curfew has recently been put in place in two lesser-economically developed areas of the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
The agency, a part of the United Nations, reports that many families, distressed by the likelihood of quarantine and the stigma the disease carries, are hiding infected loved ones from the attention of local medics and hospitals. The WHO also is concerned over the presence of ‘shadow zones’, in remote areas, which medics are unable to enter to treat patients and to report infection rates, the agency reported yesterday (Friday 22 November). The report also gave reasons why the Ebola outbreak has been underestimated, after the WHO was criticised recently for reportedly failing to respond quickly enough to contain the killer virus, which is increasingly spiralling out of control as poorly-funded and equipped hospitals in the region struggle to treat rising numbers of victims.
Experts operating separately from the WHO have also claimed that the outbreak figures are underestimated as suspicious locals in West Africa have reportedly chased away medics who attempted to treat their infected relatives and where also many Ebola sufferers are refusing treatment altogether. It is believed that more than 1,300 people have already died in the epidemic and experts have stated that there is very little chance the rampage of Ebola will be brought to a standstill by the end of this year.
The underreporting of infections is reported to be especially acute in the countries of Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone. The WHO has said it will tackle this issue by working closely with the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the United States governmental agency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to produce what they hoped would be ”more realistic estimates”.
MSF’s head has implored the WHO to do more to help victims and communities harmed by the lethal virus. In an interview with the Reuters news agency, the MSF’s head said that the fight against Ebola was being hampered by a lack of co-ordinated international leadership and the provision of emergency management skills abroad and on the ground in West Africa.
The stigma surrounding Ebola and other dangerous diseases such as HIV/AIDS, in traditional West African communities also poses a challenge to fighting the epidemic and calibrating the figures for patient numbers that the WHO needs to formulate an action plan. The outbreak, which has also being reported further afield in Nigeria, is said to be the worst in terms of fatalities since the virus’ discovery in central Africa four decades ago.
“As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home,” the WHO statement said.
“Others deny that a patient has Ebola and believe that care in an isolation ward – viewed as an incubator of the disease – will lead to infection and certain death. Most fear the stigma and social rejection that come to patients and families when a diagnosis of Ebola is confirmed.“
Fearful of the widespread stigma surrounding infectious diseases like Ebola, and distrusting of local medical facilities, put off by rumours of hospitals euthanising Ebola patients, many families have taken to burying corpses of loved ones secretly without the official authorities finding out. In addition, there exists an uncalculated number of ‘shadow zones’ with little penetration by international health NGOs or local medical workers. Most of these shadow zones exist around rural villages and remote settlements where medical care locally may be non-existent, and a visit to the nearest general hospital or Ebola treatment unit may take hours or even days. There have been rumours that many people in such villages have been infected and killed by Ebola, but their cases cannot be investigated due to community opposition or a lack of available transport services.
In other cases, where treatment has been made available, clinics are struggling to cope with the numbers of infected and possible carriers of the disease coming through their doors. This suggests there is an invisible caseload of patients that is not on the radar of the official surveillance systems, as they cannot get access to a doctor for proper infection diagnosis.
The WHO has announced that it will draw up a ‘strategy plan’ to tackle West African Ebola in the coming months as it collects more data on infection rates in the three countries that have borne the brunt of the epidemic. The drafting and realisation of the plan is expected to take between six and nine months which means that it will still be several months before there is a cohesive mission to fight back against Ebola and stop its onslaught. The disease is still relatively poorly understood and should the virus appear outside of Africa, may mean it could spread rapidly as doctors with no experience of treating Ebola victims are poorly placed to recognise symptoms and access suitable quarantine centres and drugs.
A map outlining previous Ebola viral outbreaks in the African continent.
“WHO is working on an Ebola road map document; it’s really an operational document [on] how to fight Ebola,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said at a news briefing. “It details the strategy for WHO and health partners for six to nine months to come.“
When asked whether the timeline of the strategy plan will mean Ebola in West Africa being curtailed before the beginning of 2015, Chaib responded: “Frankly, no one knows when this outbreak of Ebola will end.“
The virus will only be considered truly confined if no new cases are reported within the time frame of two ‘incubation periods’ which works out as forty-two consecutive days. However, as the virus seems to be picking up new cases with every passing week, this seems a long way off under current conditions.
“So with the evolving situation, with more cases reported, including in the three hot places – Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – the situation is not yet over,” Chaib added.
“So this is a planning document for six to nine months that we will certainly revisit when we have new developments.“
Further preliminary details of the WHO action plan are expected to be announced by the beginning of next week, Chaib told the news briefing.
The panic of Ebola has already spread out far beyond the disease itself. Border officials in the United Kingdom have been warned to be alert to signs of infection in people arriving into the country from affected nations. A Nigerian man in Spain was placed under quarantine at a local hospital in the Costa del Sol after allegedly reporting a feverish high temperature but was later given the all-clear. South Africa has been stated in international media that it has banned anyone from the three states originally affected by the outbreak from entering its territory. One worrying recent development occurred in Senegal, regarded as West Africa’s ‘humanitarian hub’. Government officials there blocked a United Nations plane carrying aid from landing in the country to offload goods intended for Ebola sufferers, while the country’s airports agency has terminated all flights originating in or destined for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The blockade has been put in place as Senegal seeks to prevent Ebola from reaching its people. Aid agencies have cautioned against the Senegalese embargo, saying that it could harm aid efforts and the emergency response against Ebola.