France battles raging fires on Cote d’Azur

A firefighter runs with a hose as he tries to put out a fire in Biguglia, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 25 July 2017
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France battles raging fires on Cote d’Azur

MARSEILLE, France: Thousands of firefighters battled forest fires in large areas of southeast France Tuesday, with one “extremely virulent” inferno raging near the jetset resort of Saint-Tropez, emergency services said.
The blazes have consumed 3,000 hectares (11 sq. miles) of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous hinterland and on the island of Corsica — at the height of the region’s holiday season.
Over 2,000 firefighters and 19 aircraft, including 10 Canadair water bombers, have been mobilized to quench the flames.
With strong winds and tinder dry conditions spelling danger for a second day, the government has asked its European Union partners to send two extra air tankers.
A fire in La Croix-Valmer near Saint-Tropez, a favorite resort with the rich and famous, was still “extremely virulent and difficult to control,” the regional head of security Stephane Bouillon told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday morning.
The blaze had already gutted 400 hectares of coastal forest in an area dotted with homes, he said.
In Corsica, scores of firefighters worked through the night to tamp down a wall of flames that threatened homes in the town of Biguglia in the northeast.
The blaze, which consumed 1,500 hectares of forest, engulfed a sawmill and burned several vehicles.
“It’s the apocalypse!” a local resident told AFPTV.
By Tuesday morning, the wind had abated and the situation had been brought under control.
In the Luberon, an area of hilltop villages and lavender fields in Provence, fires consumed around 800 hectares around the village of Mirabeau and a neighboring hamlet.
Around 100 homes had to be evacuated, according to officials, but by Tuesday firefighters had managed to secure residential areas.
Another blaze in Carros, north of Nice, burned a house, three vehicles and a warehouse and led to some homes being evacuated, according to regional authorities.
Speaking to France Info radio, Mayor Charles Scibetta described waking up to a “lunar landscape” and said the inhabitants had had a lucky escape.
“All of France is mobilized,” the head of the fire service in southeast France, Col. Gregory Allione told France Info, adding that extra firefighters had been drafted in from the north.
Southeast France is experiencing an exceptionally hot, dry summer that have made it especially vulnerable to fires.
In mid-July, a blaze believed to have been ignited by a cigarette butt tossed out of a car ripped through 800 hectares of land near Aix-en-Provence.


El Chapo trial witness: Ex-Mexico security chief was bribed

Updated 2 min 53 sec ago
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El Chapo trial witness: Ex-Mexico security chief was bribed

NEW YORK: Mexico’s former top security chief and another law enforcement official who once worked under the country’s new president-elect took millions of dollars in bribes from the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in the mid-2000s, a witness testified Tuesday at the US trial of kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Former cartel member Jesus Zambada made the allegations Tuesday while testifying about what he described as widespread corruption among authorities who were paid to keep their hands off the lucrative and violent drug operation.
During cross-examination, Zambada claimed he personally made at least $6 million in hidden payments to the former federal security chief, Genaro Garcia Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. The cash was delivered during two meetings at a restaurant in Mexico between the start of 2005 and the end of 2007, he said.
Cartel leaders had agreed that they would pool up to $50 million to buy the protection of Garcia Luna, Jesus Zambada added when being asked about previous statements first made after he was flipped by US authorities.
The witness also said a separate bribe of “a few million dollars” was made in 2005 to Gabriel Regino, who worked in the administration of current President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador when he was mayor of Mexico City.
In a letter published in Mexican media, Garcia Luna responded, “I repeat that it is false, defamatory and perjury to say that I have ever received any material goods from any person, police officer or criminal group.”
Regino, now a private lawyer and law professor, wrote on Twitter, “I categorically deny these accusations.”
Jurors in federal court in Brooklyn also heard testimony on Tuesday from US agents about how they intercepted cocaine-stashed jalapeno cans and more than $1 million in drug proceeds hidden in the paneling of a Ford Bronco used by Guzman’s brother. The trial is off the rest of the week and is to resume Monday.
Guzman, perhaps best known for escaping from Mexican prisons, has pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking charges. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
His lawyers, saying he was either in prison or in hiding when prosecutors allege he oversaw a cartel that sent tons of cocaine into the US, have sought to portray Ismael Zambada as the actual boss. The elder Zambada remains on the loose in Mexico, they claim, because of bribes that “go up to the very top,” including hundreds of millions of dollars paid to the current and former presidents of Mexico.
US District Judge Brian Cogan admonished the defense for making that claim, saying there was no evidence. He also turned back efforts by the defense to question Zambada about it.
Garcia Luna was once seen as a powerful ally in the American effort to thwart Mexican cartels from flooding the US market with cocaine and other illegal drugs. But he had also previously come under suspicion of taking bribes.