News & Current Affairs

November 11, 2010

Karachi CID building hit by bomb and gun attack

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:28 pm

An attack on anti-terrorist police headquarters in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, has left 20 dead and at least 100 injured.

Police say they exchanged fire with militants trying to storm the Criminal Investigation Department building.

Then a truck laden with explosives drove into the boundary wall, detonated its load and almost completely destroyed the structure.

The blast could be heard across several miles of the city of 14 million people.

Eyewitnesses said the blast left a crater three metres (10ft) wide and TV footage showed bloodied victims being taken away on stretchers and dozens of security officers combing through the wreckage.

“Over a dozen militants tried to storm the building,” a police official who was inside the building told the news.

A man helps a woman from the scene of the blast in Karachi, Pakistan The blast took place in the busy evening rush hour

“An exchange of fire took place for at least 15 minutes. We then saw the pick-up truck trying to ram its way inside.”

A government spokeswoman, Sharmilla Farooqi, said: “There are five policemen among the dead.

“We have reports that there may be some women police among the casualties because there was a women’s police station inside the building.”

Pakistan’s continuing battle against militancy appears to have arrived in its main business capital, Karachi.

The city had managed to escape much of the violence since Pakistan’s security forces launched a crackdown on Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the north west.

Many of these fled the region to take refuge in Karachi – keeping a low profile.

But since the bombing of a Shia procession on 29 December 2009, militants have regularly been involved in attacks in the volatile metropolis.

Most of these have been on soft targets such as shrines and religious processions. Thursday’s attack shows that militants are now growing as confident here as in the north west. At the moment, it appears Karachi’s security forces are firmly in their crosshairs.

One witness told the news that he had heard the exchange of gunfire before the explosion.

“I was playing tennis across the road at the Karachi Club when I heard gunshots and then a huge blast,” said Ali Zaidi.

“Everyone started panicking and running toward the changing rooms. Some of my friends have been injured and have been taken to hospital.”

The news, in Islamabad, says that CID officials and their offices – including this building – have been targeted in Karachi in the past.

Our correspondent adds that the latest attack comes a day after the same unit arrested several wanted militants in the city, said to belong to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – Pakistan’s most dangerous militant group.

The group, which is closely linked to al-Qaeda, has been involved in a string of high profile attacks across the country.

Mohammad Aslam Khan, of the CID, told the news that he believed the arrested men were planning to carry out bombings on Shia processions in the city.

Locator map

The site of the blast is within a high-security area of the city, not far from the Sindh province chief minister’s residence and near the luxury Sheraton hotel in the south of the city.

Other buildings close by were badly damaged in the blast, which shattered windows within a two-mile radius.

The blast took place in the evening rush hour as Pakistan’s commercial capital was busy with people leaving work.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the Taliban have been behind a number of similar attacks on police and army compounds in recent years.

Are you in Karachi? Have you been caught up in events? Send us your comments

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April 10, 2010

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior Polish figures have been killed in a plane crash in Russia.

Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog.

Russian media reports said the pilots ignored advice from air traffic control to divert to another airport.

Poland’s army chief, central bank governor, MPs and leading historians were among more than 80 passengers.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the crash was the most tragic event of the country’s post-World War II history.

The Polish delegation was flying in from Warsaw to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during WWII.

Lech Kaczynski, file image

Obituary: Lech Kaczynski

The BBC’s Adam Easton, in Warsaw, says the crash is a catastrophe for the Polish people.

He says Prime Minister Tusk was reportedly in tears when he was told.

After an emergency meeting of ministers, Mr Tusk, who runs the day-to-day business of government, said a week of national mourning had been declared with two minutes of silence on Sunday at midday.

Mr Tusk added: “The Polish state must function and will function”.

Flowers and candles laid outside presidential palace in Warsaw -  10 April 2010

Thousands have gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw

A government spokesman said that according to the constitution there would be an early presidential election, and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, would be acting president.

In Warsaw, people gathered outside the presidential palace to lay flowers and light candles.

“I’m all broken up… it cannot be expressed in words,” Ewa Robaczewska told Reuters news agency.

Pilot error?

The Russian emergencies ministry told Itar-Tass news agency the plane crashed at 1056 Moscow time (0656 GMT) as it was coming in to land.

Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufiev told Russian TV that no-one had survived.

Thousands of people have gathered outside the presidential palace to pay their respects.

There has been a spontaneous outpouring of grief, no matter what people thought of Lech Kaczynski. He was a divisive figure in Polish society, especially among younger Poles.

People are just stunned, visibly moved and in tears, whether they agreed with the president’s political views or not.

The largest church bell in Poland, at Krakow Cathedral, has been rung.

It never tolls generally, only for very, very solemn occasions. The last time it did so was for the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago.

“According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces,” he said. “There are no survivors in that crash.”

Polish TV worker Slawomir Wisniewski said he had seen the crash from his hotel near the airport.

“I saw through the fog, the aeroplane flying very low with the left wing pointing to the ground,” he said.

“I heard something being broken and then that thudding sound. Two flashes of fire next to each other.”

Russian media carried claims that the plane’s crew were at fault for the crash.

“Flight controllers… suggested that the plane be forwarded to Minsk but as far as we know the crew took an independent decision to land the plane in Smolensk,” Smolensk regional government spokesman Andrei Yevseyenkov told Russian TV.

Russian officials said 97 people were killed in the crash, including eight crew.

Polish officials said that 89 people had been scheduled to fly in the delegation to the Katyn commemoration, but one person missed the flight.

Mr Putin visited the crash site, after saying he would personally oversee the investigation into the crash.

“Everything must be done to establish the reasons for this tragedy in the shortest possible time,” he said.

He was to meet his Polish counterpart, Mr Tusk, in Smolensk.

Russian officials said all the bodies had been recovered from the scene and were being taken to Moscow for identification.

Russia’s Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said both of the plane’s flight information recorders had been found and were being examined.

Controversial figure

The president was flying in a Tupolev 154, a Soviet-designed plane that was more than 20 years old.

SENIOR FIGURES KILLED
National leader:
President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria
Other politicians:
Wladyslaw Stasiak chief of the president’s chancellery; Aleksander Szczyglo chief of the National Security Office; Slawomir Skrzypek National Bank of Poland chairman;
Jerzy Szmajdzinski deputy speaker of the lower house; Andrzej Kremer Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary of state; Stanislaw Komorowski deputy minister of national defence; Przemyslaw Gosiewski Law and Justice party deputy chair;
Military chief:
Franciszek Gagor chief of the General Staff
Cultural figures:
Andrzej Przewoznik head of Poland’s Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites; Tomasz Merta chief historical conservator

Source: TVP1, Warsaw

Our correspondent says there had been calls for Polish leaders to upgrade their planes.

Mr Kaczynski himself had suffered scares while using the plane in late 2008, when problems with the aircraft’s steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia.

“Any flight brings with it a certain risk, but a very serious risk attaches to the responsibilities of a president, because it is necessary to fly constantly,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

But the head of Russia’s Aviakor aviation maintenance company told Russian TV the plane was airworthy, after his plant fully overhauled it in December.

As well as the president and his wife, Maria, a number of senior officials were on the passenger list.

They included the army chief of staff Gen Franciszek Gagor, central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek and deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

World leaders including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered their condolences to Poland.

Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, a former prime minister and now head of the main opposition party, was said to be “devastated”, an aide told AFP news agency.

Lech Kaczynski, who had fewer powers than the prime minister but had a significant say in foreign policy, was a controversial figure in Polish politics.

He had advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare programmes.

Map of crashed flight

March 7, 2010

Bitterness and unease in bankrupt Zimbabwe

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:48 pm

Bitterness and unease in bankrupt Zimbabwe

Courtesy BBC

After 30 years in power, Zimbabwe’s veteran leader Robert Mugabe said this week he was ready to stand for another term as president. BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding finds Mr Mugabe’s party in angry mood, and others – the white minority and the former opposition MDC party – full of foreboding.

People on the street in Harare

The law intends to redistribute more wealth to the black population

It has been a grey, drizzly week here.

In the wealthier suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe’s shrinking white population is once again feeling nervous.

Pat, who runs a small hairdressing salon, and whose family has lived here for four generations, is finally planning to leave.

They don’t want us “whiteys” here any more she says. The writing is on the wall.

Pat has been spooked by a new law, introduced this week, which is supposed to correct the enduring economic legacies of colonialism, and give black Zimbabweans a controlling stake in almost all companies.

The main focus is Zimbabwe’s rich mines and its industry.

But the indigenisation law also seeks to prevent white people from owning things like hairdressing and beauty salons.

In a few years, says Pat, we will be like an extinct species. They will come for our houses next.

The reaction may well be extreme.

Many white Zimbabweans have been slow to acknowledge the debt they owe to the black majority here. Economic empowerment is clearly necessary.

But after a decade of economic chaos, horrific violence, and the brutal seizure of white-owned farms, it is easy to understand why so many Zimbabweans – of all colours – are hair-trigger tuned to expect the very worst.

Bitter words

Saviour Kasukuwere, ZANU PF Party member
Our children are dying because of sanctions
Saviour Kasukuwere, Zanu PF

Saviour Kasukuwere does not exactly try to smooth the waters.

“You people,” he almost spat at me, as I sat in his office on the ninth floor of the squat grey building that houses President Mugabe’s Zanu PF Party.

Mr Kasukuwere used to be a member of Mr Mugabe’s notorious state security.

He is a hardliner and a rising star.

“You British, you could learn a lot about democracy from us,” he says with a thin smile.

Mr Kasukuwere, a tall, heavy-set man, was at primary school when his country won full independence from Britain 30 years ago.

Unlike Mr Mugabe’s generation, he did not fight and suffer for freedom. But, full of passionate intensity, he seems to wallow in his bitterness.

In his eyes, and words, everything can still be blamed on what he calls the “genocidal” West.

Zanu PF’s current preoccupation is with what it calls “Western sanctions”.

The state media makes it sound like some overwhelming economic blockade.

“Our children are dying because of sanctions,” says Mr Kasukuwere.

But as diplomats and economists here point out, the reality is less extreme.

The European Union is currently imposing a travel ban on 198 individuals. Thirty-five companies are also frozen out.

“This is about Mrs Mugabe not being able to shop in Paris,” one diplomat put it. “Zimbabwe can’t borrow money, not because of sanctions, but because it owes $6bn, and can’t pay it back because it systematically wrecked its own economy.”

Train smash

Within Zimbabwe’s unity government, sanctions are a poisonous issue – one of many.

The unity government, formed after bitterly disputed elections, has survived a year now – President Mugabe’s Zanu PF sharing, or at least pretending to share power with its enemy, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

“It’s a train smash, warfare every day,” one MDC minister told me.

But the government has survived and on some issues is clearly making progress.

The MDC is hoping now to water down the new indigenisation law in order not to scare away foreign investors and potentially plunge the economy back into chaos.

Posters for President Robert Mugabe are covered with graffiti for  the opposition Movement for Democratic Change June 27, 2008 in Harare,  Zimbabwe

The 2008 elections saw MDC supporters beaten and killed

Both parties are now gearing up for new elections – possibly next year. It is the only way to settle Zimbabwe’s political deadlock once and for all.

The sanctions issue and the indigenisation law, are key campaign themes for Zanu PF.

If the MDC tries to question either of them – it is accused of being a stooge for colonial Western interests.

The MDC can probably handle that sort of criticism. It has got a strong support base, and at least one recent opinion poll showed it would crush Mr Mugabe and his party at the polls.

Any credit for the economic stability achieved here during the past year, seems to have gone to the MDC.

But the party is not nearly as well organised or ruthless as Zanu PF.

We are floundering, one MDC insider told me dejectedly. And of course, past experience in Zimbabwe shows that elections here are won by intimidation, not popularity.

Unless we have foreign peacekeepers to protect us, it will be another bloodbath
Senior MDC official

In 2008, Zanu PF orchestrated a campaign of terror – killing and beating MDC supporters – in order to hold on to power.

Now at the age of 86, after 30 years in office, President Mugabe has announced he is planning to run for yet another term.

Elections could be held next year, he says.

Mr Mugabe controls the police and the army, and under the current constitution, most of the electoral infrastructure.

Will he play fair this time?

We are heading towards another big fight, a senior MDC official told me anxiously.

Unless we have foreign peacekeepers to protect us, it will be another bloodbath.

Sandra Bullock wins worst actress award at Razzies

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:45 pm

Sandra Bullock wins worst actress award at Razzies

Sandra Bullock turned up at the Golden Raspberry Awards on Saturday to pick up the worst actress prize just one day before she is expected to win an Oscar.

Bullock, who won the Razzie for the comedy All About Steve, arrived with a trailer filled with DVDs of the film to give to the audience.

“Something tells me you all didn’t watch the film because I wouldn’t be here if you really, really watched it and understood what I was trying to say,” she said.

Bullock is hotly tipped to be named best actress for her role in American football drama The Blind Side at the Academy Awards on Sunday.

Panning

The Razzie awards are held in Los Angeles just ahead of the Oscars to celebrate the direst films of the year. The last big star to turn up and claim her award was Halle Berry in 2005.

Bullock received a standing ovation when she arrived on the Razzies stage with the DVDs.

Sandra Bullock in All About Steve

Bullock co-produced the comedy All About Steve, which made a profit

“Everyone gets a copy and this is the deal I’m going to make,” she told the cheering crowd.

“I will show up next year if you promise to watch the movie and really consider if it was truly the worst performance. If you’re willing to watch, I’ll come back next year and give back the Razzie.”

In All About Steve, Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a socially awkward crossword compiler who turns stalker when she meets a local TV cameraman.

During the film she joins a group of protesters, gets hit by a tornado and falls down a mine shaft where she meets a deaf girl at the bottom – all while wearing a pair of shiny red boots.

Bullock also co-produced the film, which made a profit at the box office. Critics, however, gave it a panning.

In other prizes, the worst picture of 2009 went to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen while John Travolta’s film Battlefield Earth was named worst picture of the decade.

One of Battlefield Earth’s screenwriters, JD Shapiro, also turned up to accept the award.

He said: “I especially want to thank the dozens and dozens of people who went to see the movie.”

He then quoted a review from the New York Times which said: “Battlefield Earth is about the extinction of the human race, and after seeing this movie I’m all for it.”

The Jonas Brothers were named worst actors for their 3D concert movie, while Bullock and Bradley Cooper won worst screen couple – also for All About Steve.

The Razzies were set up by copywriter and publicist John Wilson as the antithesis to the Oscars, and are voted for by members of the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation, which is open to anyone.

Asked about Bullock’s performance at the Razzies, Wilson laughed: “It was much better than the one you’re about to see on the DVD.”

Australia charges a man over Indian boy’s death

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Travel — Tags: , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:41 pm

Australia charges a man over Indian boy’s death

Undated police handout of Gurshan Singh

Gurshan Singh disappeared from a house in Melbourne

Police in Australia’s south-eastern state of Victoria have charged a man with manslaughter in relation to the death of a three-year-old Indian boy.

Dhillon Gursewak, 23, lived in the same house in the Melbourne area where the boy was staying during his holiday. He is not said to be a relative.

He is accused of criminal negligence, Australian media reported.

Gurshan Singh’s body was found on Thursday by the side of a road about 30km (19 miles) away from the house.

His parents had reported him missing.

There have been a number of racist attacks on Indians in the past year.

Australian officials have warned against jumping to conclusions.

Police have been treating the incident as a possible homicide. No cause of death has yet been established and the boy’s body is said to have shown no signs of injury.

Racism charges

Gurshan Singh, who was visiting from Punjab in northern India, disappeared from a house in the north of Melbourne early on Thursday afternoon.

About six hours after his disappearance, a council worker found a body at the side of a road which police said matched the boy’s description.

Indian students rally in Melbourne, Australia, 31 May 2009

Attacks on the Indian community have provoked street protests

The boy, whose mother was studying in Australia, had been in the country for about six weeks.

His death came as Australia was making efforts to improve relations with India, a major export market, after a series of alleged race attacks.

The latest known attack was in January when Nitin Garg, 21, was stabbed to death as he walked to work at a burger restaurant.

Australia’s foreign minister had earlier acknowledged that some of the attacks, which prompted street protests last year, were racially motivated.

Earlier, senior officials and police had denied this.

Last month, thousands of Australians visited Indian restaurants for a Vindaloos Against Violence campaign, aimed at showing solidarity with the 450,000-strong community.

Robbers raid Berlin hotel poker tournament

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Sports News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:39 pm

Robbers raid Berlin hotel poker tournament

Armed robbers have stormed a luxury hotel in central Berlin where a poker tournament was taking place, German police say.

One report said the gang – armed with assault rifles and hand grenades – made off with the tournament jackpot of 800,000 euros ($1.1m; £726,000).

Several people were injured in the ensuing panic, although none of them seriously.

About 1,000 poker players are taking part in the five-day tournament.

“Several masked, armed individuals entered the Grand Hyatt Hotel and fled with a haul of money,” police spokeswoman Heidi Vogt said.

She declined to say how much had been taken but Berlin’s Tageszeitung newspaper reported on its website that the gang had taken 800,000 euros.

‘Panic’

Participant Tobias Reinkemeier said there was panic when the robbers broke in.

Grand Hyatt Hotel at Potsdamer Platz in B

There was panic at the Grand Hyatt Hotel when the gang burst in

“They screamed ‘armed robbery’,” he said.

“We didn’t know what was going on. Then there was panic and everyone jumped underneath tables before they tried to escape through the emergency exit.”

The attack happened at about 1430 local time (1330GMT).

Four robbers entered from Potsdamer Platz while two others kept watch, Tageszeitung reported.

Images of the chaotic scenes were broadcast by the private n-tv television station.

Officials said most of the injuries were caused by panic.

The tournament – organised by the European Poker Tour (EPT) – resumed about four hours after the attack, German media reported.

‘Dozens killed’ in Nigeria clashes

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , — expressyoureself @ 3:35 pm

‘Dozens killed’ in Nigeria clashes

Map of Nigeria showing Jos

Dozens of people have been reported killed in clashes near the central Nigerian city of Jos.

Witnesses said corpses were piled up in the village of Dogo-Nahawa, a few kilometres (miles) south of Jos.

A doctor at a hospital in Jos told Reuters news agency that victims had been cut by machetes and burnt.

In January hundreds of people were killed in sectarian riots in the city, which lies between the mainly Muslim north and the more Christian south.

Ethnic and religious riots also broke out in 2008, killing hundreds.

A resident of Dogo-Nahawa said attackers entered the village overnight, firing guns.

“The shooting was just meant to bring people from their houses and then when people came out they started cutting them with machetes,” Peter Jang told Reuters.

Pakistan officers suspended over UK boy kidnap

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:34 pm

Pakistan officers suspended over UK boy kidnap

Four police officers in Pakistan have been suspended over the handling of the kidnap of a five-year-old British boy.

Sahil Saeed, from Oldham, was snatched by armed robbers on Wednesday while visiting relatives with his father.

But the police did not initially respond to the family’s emergency call to “Rescue 15”, the Pakistani equivalent of 999.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik met Sahil’s father and said he planned to “make an example of” the captors.

Sahil was taken from his grandmother’s home in the Punjab city of Jhelum as he prepared to take a taxi to the airport for his return flight to the UK.

The attackers are said to have demanded a £100,000 ransom for his return.

‘Pray for him’

On Saturday, Sahil’s mother Akila Naqqas pleaded for his safe return, saying she would forgive his son’s captors if they released him.

Sahil Saeed

Sahil Saeed was taken by robbers after a raid on his grandmother’s home

She also said Sahil had never been apart from either herself or her husband.

“It’s just a nightmare. I’m not sleeping at all,” she said. “It’s worse at night when I have no-one to comfort me.

“All we can do is just pray for him.”

It is understood several men, including a taxi driver, have been arrested in Pakistan.

The interior minister visited Sahil ‘s father Raja Saeed in Jhelum on Sunday.

Mr Malik told him the police believed the kidnappers were people close to the family, and that they were closing in on the culprits.

“We have certain leads that I would not like to discuss,” he said. “But a warning to those abductors – leave the boy because we are very near to you.”

He also said the kidnap was “humiliating” for Pakistan and the captors would be made an “example off”.

February 21, 2010

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal’s armed forces are sending two ships with helicopters and medical supplies to Madeira island, where floods have killed at least 32 people.

Extra search and rescue teams were expected to arrive on Sunday to help clean up after mudslides and raging floods tore through towns on Saturday.

Officials fear the death toll could rise. Water, power and phones were cut in some areas.

PM Jose Socrates, who is in Madeira, said he would “do everything to help”.

The storms were the worst there since October 1993, when eight people died.

“So far we have confirmed 32 deaths but eventually the number may increase,” regional official Francisco Ramos was quoted as saying by Portuguese newspaper Publico.

Madeira is located about 900km (560miles) from the Portuguese mainland and is popular with foreign tourists.

Debris left behind in Funchal by the flash floods

Officials say the extra emergency teams being sent include 56 military rescuers with search dogs and 36 firefighters.

Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, who has also flown to the island, said forensic experts would conduct post-mortem examinations to allow funerals to take place soon.

He added: “We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union.”

The regional capital, Funchal, among the worst affected areas by Saturday’s floods and mudslides.

Television pictures showed muddy torrents coursing down narrow channels and spilling over the sides, roads awash with water and streets littered with debris.

‘Ghost town’

Trees have been brought down and cars swept away, blocking roads and hampering relief teams. Some bridges and roads have been washed away.

MADEIRA FACTS
map
Autonomous region of Portugal with population of around 250,000
Lies just over 480km (300 miles) from West African coast
The European continent is more than 900km away

British holidaymaker Cathy Sayers told the news Funchal was like a ghost town. She said the infrastructure had been wrecked.

“The drains just cannot cope with the water that’s coming down from the mountains – they are just overfilled with sludge.”

There had not really been any warning that it would be quite so bad, she said.

“I think everyone is extremely shocked that this has happened at this time of year,” she said.

The president of the regional government, Joao Jardim, said outdoor markets would be encouraged to reopen.

“We don’t know how much it will affect the tourism, but there is no point in dramatising the situation too much,” he said.

Local media say the authorities’ main concern now is for residents of Nuns valley – an isolated mountainous region that rescue workers have been unable to reach.

The Weather Center says the severe weather was due a low pressure system, and that while Madeira can expect further rain with heavy downpours on Sunday, there is no danger of a repeat of the flash floods.


Do you live in the area? Have you been affected by the floods and mudslides? Are you visiting the island?

Send your comments

February 20, 2010

Police battle illegal Russian gamblers

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:27 pm

Police battle illegal Russian gamblers

Police vidoe of raid on ilegal casino

A picture from a police video shows officers catching staff and gamblers red-handed

Illegal gambling has spread rapidly across Russia since a new law came into force last July banning casinos and slots machines in towns and cities, according to a senior police officer in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

Col Oleg Bolderov of the economic crimes department of the Russian police said they had carried out thousands of raids over the past eight months.

“We have closed down 70 casinos and 4,000 slot-machine arcades… and have brought 600 criminal cases against those trying to organise this (illegal gambling),” he said.

A police video of one of the raids given to the BBC shows heavily armed officers dressed in black, breaking into an illegal casino and catching the staff and punters red-handed.

Brandishing automatic weapons, two police officers stand over a poker table busy with startled gamblers.

But despite the crackdown, well-placed sources connected to the formerly legal gambling industry say underground gambling dens continue to flourish in the capital, Moscow, and in St Petersburg, while in more far-flung cities very little actually changed when the law came into force last July.

‘Gambling rife’

There are also allegations that some senior police officers are actively offering to protect illegal casinos in return for huge pay-offs.

“We were approached by a police official who told us that for $400,000 per month we could stay open,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous.

Russian police officer Oleg Bolderov
In parts of Russia, gambling remains rife. Why? Because of corruption
Col Oleg Bolderov

Even Col Bolderov admits that authorities are fighting a losing battle against the continuing huge demand for gambling as well as against corrupt officials.

“One of the most probable explanations for the rise of illegal gambling is corruption,” he says.

“In our police department, we do our best to close down underground casinos and slot-machine halls and we have some success.

“But in parts of Russia, gambling remains rife. Why? Because of corruption.”

In the centre of Moscow it is easy to find slot-machine arcades operating openly, although slightly more discreetly than before.

And it took just a few phone calls to arrange a visit to an illegal casino.

I was told to leave my bag behind to ensure I had no recording equipment or cameras with me.

Lucrative industry

The owner then led me through corridors and heavy doors, which could only be opened using special security codes, into the casino.

It was not large but it had pristine poker tables, a roulette wheel and hi-tech slot machines.

At the bar, a lone gambler, his back turned to me, nursed a drink.

Still from police video of Moscow gambling site

The police have had some success in closing gambling sites down

According to industry sources the illegal casinos were up and running just four months after the ban came into force.

The new law, which should have put an end to gambling in Russia’s towns and cities, was pushed through by the former president and now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

Casinos and slot-machine arcades had come to dominate city centres with their gaudy neon entrances.

The gambling industry, which was resurrected after the collapse of the Soviet Union almost twenty years ago, had grown to be worth around $6bn (4.4bn euros, £3.9bn) a year.

And the number of addicts was also growing.

Too remote

The government’s plan was to banish gambling to four specially-designated zones in the remotest regions of the country.

But the zones were so remote that none of the big casino operators was prepared to invest the huge sums of money required to have the slightest chance of attracting gamblers to travel so far.

So for the most part, they remain empty plots of land.

In a forlorn ceremony earlier this month however, one casino in one of the regions did finally open its doors.

It is at least a two hour drive from the nearest city and airport, in the middle of nowhere in the far south of the country.

No other casinos have been built so far in any of the regions.

Already there are calls for the law to be revised on the basis that it has simply driven gambling underground and provided corrupt officials with yet another opportunity to solicit bribes.

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