News & Current Affairs

September 6, 2008

Deadly rockslide hits Cairo homes

Deadly rockslide hits Cairo homes

People at the site of the rock slide (6/9/08)

At least 20 people have been killed by a rockslide which destroyed homes in Cairo, emergency services say.

Dozens of houses in the shanty town east of central Cairo were hit by huge boulders and rocks, reports said.

Witnesses said a six-storey building in the impoverished Duwayqa district below the Muqattam hills had been completely reduced to rubble.

Some people are believed to be still trapped in the rubble and police have cordoned off the area.

At least 20 people are reported to have been injured and the number of casualties is expected to rise.

Reports said that at least eight boulders – each estimated to weigh about 70 tonnes – had fallen from the towering cliffs overlooking the district at about 0900 local time (0700 GMT).

“It was horror,” said Hassan Ibrahim Hassan, 80, whose house escaped the destruction.

Distraught residents

“The power went out, we heard a loud bang like an earthquake and I thought this house had collapsed. I went out, I saw the whole mountain had collapsed.”

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Witnesses described seeing hundreds of distraught people gathered around the site of the destruction, saying they had relatives and friends trapped under the rubble.

Some were scrabbling at the rocks with their bare hands.

The remains of the town have been covered by a thick layer of dust.

Rescue teams were forced to wait for the arrival of cranes and heavy lifting equipment to allow them to move the huge rocks.”I couldn’t find my house this morning,” said Mustafa Abdel-Fatah. “I could only see rocks on top of everything.”

It was not clear what had triggered the rockfall but a our correspondent says there have been previous landslides in the area.

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August 30, 2008

Police killed by India mine blast

Police killed by India mine blast

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Twelve police officers have been killed by a landmine explosion in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, police say.

The officers were carrying out a patrol in a police vehicle through the Maoist rebel stronghold of Burudih, 160km (100 miles) south of the capital, Ranchi.

A police spokesman said the rebels had been planting mines in the area to deter attacks by the security forces.

More than 6,000 people have died during the Maoist rebels’ 20-year fight for a communist state in parts of India.

Last week, at least nine people, including six policemen, were killed in clashes between security forces and Maoist rebels in Bihar state.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the “single biggest threat” to India’s security.

The rebels, who operate in several Indian states, say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.

August 20, 2008

Thousands affected by Nepal flood

Thousands affected by Nepal flood

People displaced by the floods in Nepal on 19 August 2008

Many flood victims are suffering from diseases

Nearly 30,000 people are reported to have fled their homes after a dam collapsed in south-eastern Nepal leading to flooding in the area.

The police say they are trying to rescue the stranded people, but the high water levels are making airlifting them difficult.

The Koshi dam on the Saptakoshi river in Sunsari district collapsed on Monday afternoon after breaching embankments.

Many flood victims have taken shelter in school and college buildings.

The police say at least three people have drowned in the floods.

A number of villages have been inundated, a police officer said. “People stranded on the roofs of their houses are being rescued by boat rescue teams,” he added.

Traffic on a highway linking eastern Nepal with its western part has been affected after flood waters damaged a section of the road.

Many of the flood victims who are suffering from diarrhoea and fever have been taken to the district hospital, a police official said.

About 28 million people were affected by the floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal last year, in which more than 400 people died.

August 14, 2008

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russian soldier near Gori, 13 August 2008

Russia insists its troops remain in Georgia for security purposes only

Russian troops have begun handing over control of the area around the town of Gori to Georgian security forces.

But a Russian general in the area said Moscow’s troops would remain nearby for several days to remove weaponry and help restore law and order in Gori.

Overnight the US secretary of state urged Moscow to meet its own pledge to pull troops out of Georgia altogether.

Georgia attacked the rebel region of South Ossetia from Gori a week ago and the town has remained a key flash point.

Russian troops occupied the town after they pushed Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, sparking a mass retreat from the city by Georgian troops and civilians.

Gori has also come under air attack, with reports of Russian planes bombing the town after Moscow declared an end to its military operation on Tuesday.

And Russia’s continued deployment of troops in Gori raised concerns that the Kremlin would not make a quick withdrawal from Georgian territory, despite agreeing to a European peace plan.

Safety ‘improved’

Moscow insists that the purpose of its continuing presence in Georgia proper is to hand over security to the Georgian police and to remove abandoned weapons and ammunition.

In Gori, I saw lorries full of bodies being delivered to the hostpial every day. So many people have died, why is the government lying?

Local residents reported feeling safe and secure on Wednesday night, our correspondent says, with Russian troops clearly in charge of the town.

The Russian general co-ordinating the return of Georgian police and security forces to Gori urged residents – many of whom left town as the Georgian army retreated on Monday – to return to their homes and re-open their shops, our correspondent adds.

Russian troops were allowing armed Georgian police back into the town, and would not leave until order is restored, Gen Vyacheslav Borisov said.

US steadfast

The Georgian government says that 175 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the conflict with Russia and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Russia, which says that 74 of its troops were killed, reports that more than 2,000 people died in South Ossetia, the vast majority civilians allegedly killed in the Georgian attack.

While none of the casualty figures have been verified independently, the UN refugee agency estimates that some 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, both from South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Both sides have accused each other of committing atrocities during the conflict, although little conclusive evidence has been found.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday night Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce, brokered by French and current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She spoke hours after Russian tanks were seen moving out of Gori on the main road to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Amid widespread concern the armored column eventually turned off the main road and troops began work to destroy or disable Georgian army bases.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” Ms Rice said later in Washington, before leaving on a diplomatic mission to France and Georgia.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.

And the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, told the BBC that the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus strengthened Georgia’s case to join the Nato alliance.

“Russia, a country with 30 times the population [of Georgia] decided to roll into its much smaller neighbour and tried to roll over it. It failed to roll over Georgia, but it would never have even thought of doing this if Georgia were already a member of Nato,” he said.

Map of region

August 6, 2008

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

VIEW THE MAP
Durham University)
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British scientists say they have drawn up the first detailed map to show areas in the Arctic that could become embroiled in future border disputes.

A team from Durham University compiled the outline of potential hotspots by basing the design on historical and ongoing arguments over ownership.

Russian scientists caused outrage last year when they planted their national flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

The UK researchers hope the map will inform politicians and policy makers.

“Its primary purpose is to inform discussions and debates because, frankly, there has been a lot of rubbish about who can claim (sovereignty) over what,” explained Martin Pratt, director of the university’s International Boundaries Research Unit (IBRU).

“To be honest, most of the other maps that I have seen in the media have been very simple,” he added.

“We have attempted to show all known claims; agreed boundaries and one thing that has not appeared on any other maps, which is the number of areas that could be claimed by Canada, Denmark and the US.”

Energy security is driving interest, as is the fact that Arctic ice is melting more and more during the summer
Martin Pratt,
Durham University

The team used specialist software to construct the nations’ boundaries, and identify what areas could be the source of future disputes.

“All coastal states have rights over the resources up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline,” Mr Pratt said. “So, we used specialist geographical software to ‘buffer’ the claims out accurately.”

The researchers also took into account the fact that some nations were able to extend their claims to 350 nautical miles as a result of their landmasses extending into the sea.

Back on the agenda

The issue of defining national boundaries in the Arctic was brought into sharp relief last summer when a team of Russian explorers used their submarine to plant their country’s flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

A number of politicians from the nations with borders within the Arctic, including Canada’s foreign minister, saw it as Moscow furthering its claim to territory within the region.

Mr Pratt said a number of factors were driving territorial claims back on to the political agenda.

“Energy security is driving interest, as is the fact that Arctic ice is melting more and more during the summer,” he told BBC News. “This is allowing greater exploration of the Arctic seabed.”

Data released by the US Geological Survey last month showed that the frozen region contained an estimated 90 billion barrels of untapped oil.

Mr Pratt added that the nations surrounding the Arctic also only had a limited amount of time to outline their claims.

“If they don’t define it within the timeframe set out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, then it becomes part of what is known as ‘The Area’, which is administered by the International Seabed Authority on behalf of humanity as a whole.”

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