Three killed in blast at upscale Bogota mall

Three killed in blast at upscale Bogota mall
Updated 18 June 2017
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Three killed in blast at upscale Bogota mall

BOGOTA: Three people including a young Frenchwoman were killed and nine wounded Saturday when an explosion rocked an upscale Bogota mall, as Colombia’s only active guerrilla group condemned the blast.
President Juan Manuel Santos said there were “no clear indications” who was behind the explosion, emphasizing that those responsible would be captured and held accountable.
“Terrorists are not going to change our ways,” he said at the scene of the attack, urging Colombians to continue “normal life” and enjoy the Father’s Day holiday on Sunday.
One Frenchwoman, 23, died in the attack, according to the city’s mayor. Two Colombians also died, the Clinic of the Country said in a statement.
Another 48-year-old Frenchwoman was among the injured, according to the clinic.
Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa also said authorities could not confirm “which group could be responsible” for the blast, but it was “clearly a cowardly terrorist attack.”
Police said that at about 5:00 p.m. (2200 GMT) the explosion tore through a restroom in the Centro Andino Mall, crowded with shoppers ahead of Father’s Day and located in an upscale area of the Colombian capital that is popular with foreigners.
National police chief General Jorge Nieto told reporters “a device” was placed “behind one of the toilets in the women’s bathroom” in the shopping center.
Michael Montoya, who works in a pastry shop on the third floor, told AFP that “we were tending to customers and we heard an explosion on the second floor.”
After heading to the scene he said he and his colleague saw people crying and bloodstained.
“It was in the bathrooms because some women came out crying,” he said. “There was a lot of smoke and security people told us to evacuate.”
Police, ambulances and firefighters swiftly arrived at the scene, popular for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
President Santos said the mall would open normally on Sunday.
The Frenchwoman who died had spent six months working in a school in a poor neighborhood, Bogota’s mayor said.
French ambassador to Colombia Gautier Mignot confirmed the death of the 23-year-old and told a Bogota radio station that “the young woman was apparently in the company of her mother.”
Colombia is still grappling with a civil conflict that has lasted more than half a century between guerrilla fighters, paramilitary groups and state forces — leaving at least 260,000 dead, 60,000 missing and 7.1 million displaced.
The government is seeking a “complete peace” after reaching a peace accord last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.
The ELN, with 1,500 fighters, is the last guerrilla group still active in the country, but was quick to condemn the attack.
“ELN_Paz condemns this deplorable incident,” the group wrote on its Twitter account, noting that the attack was “against civilians.”
“We share the pain and stand in solidarity with the victims,” the group wrote. “The state should investigate thoroughly to identify those responsible.”
The leader of the FARC, Rodrigo Londono — known as Timochenko — also denounced the explosion.
“Solidarity with the victims of today in Bogota,” he wrote on Twitter. “This act can only come from those who want to close the roads of peace and reconciliation.”
The blast was the second major attack this year in the Colombian capital.
In February the ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at a bullring in Bogota, which killed a police officer and wounded more than 20 people.


Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

Updated 23 January 2019
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Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

  • The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities
  • Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is looking to leave the sex abuse scandal buffeting his papacy behind as he heads to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump’s promised wall at the US-Mexico border and a new caravan of migrants heading north.
History’s first Latin American pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young people gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to invigorate the next generation of Catholics in their faith.
Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future free of violence and poverty in migrating to the US — “young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face.”
The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities, while calling on governments do their share as well.
The visit is taking place as the US government remains partly shut down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall.
Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the US border, he denounced anyone who wants to build a wall to keep out migrants as “not Christian.”
Crowds are expected to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day — only about 150,000 people had registered as of last week — but thousands more will certainly throng Francis’ main events, which include a vigil and a final Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school vacations in Europe or North America, both of which typically send huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day gatherings.
Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy globally is facing a crisis in credibility for covering up decades of cases of priests molesting young people.
The pope is expected to soon rule on the fate of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered US archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the global church.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said there were no plans for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the explosion of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the US and other parts of the world.
This is the first papal visit to Panama since St. John Paul II was there during a 1983 regional tour that famously included an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had been gunned down by right-wing death squads three years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken out on behalf of the poor.
Salvadoran bishops had hoped Francis would follow suit and make a stop in El Salvador this time to pay his respects at Romero’s tomb since Francis canonized him in October. But the Vatican said a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.
Nevertheless, Gisotti said Romero would likely loom large at the Panama gathering, given he is such a point of reference for young Central American Catholics who grew up learning about his defense of the poor.
The Panama visit is also the first by a pope since the Vatican embassy played a crucial role during the 1989 US invasion of Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega took refuge there and requested asylum on Christmas Eve after four days on the run trying to escape US troops.
Noriega eventually surrendered, bringing to an end one of the more unusual US military operations: It involved US troops blasting heavy metal and rock music — including Van Halen’s “Panama” — at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.
Noriega, a onetime US ally, eventually served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He died in 2017 after his final years were spent in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his 1983-89 regime.