Sierra Leone mudslides death toll now above 400, UN says

Volunteers wait at the scene of heavy flooding and mudslides in Regent, just outside of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, Tuesday, Aug. 15 , 2017. Survivors of deadly mudslides in Sierra Leone's capital are vividly describing the disaster as President Ernest Bai Koroma says the nation is in a "state of grief." (AP)
Updated 18 August 2017
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Sierra Leone mudslides death toll now above 400, UN says

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone: More than 400 bodies have been pulled from the debris of Sierra Leone’s mudslides as burials and recovery efforts pressed on Friday amid the threat of further disaster.
The UN humanitarian agency put the death toll at 409 after the flooding and mudslides in the West African nation’s capital, Freetown, on Monday morning.
Large-scale burials have begun as an estimated 600 people remain missing. People continue to search through tons of mud and debris amid the remains of mangled buildings.
The government has warned residents to evacuate a mountainside where a large crack has opened. Rainfall remains in the forecast for the coming days, slowing recovery efforts and bringing the threat of further mudslides.
Thousands of people have lost their homes. Some critics accuse the government of not learning from past disasters in a city where many poor areas are near sea level and lack good drainage. The capital is also plagued by unregulated construction on its hillsides.
The government has hired 600 gravediggers for burials in a cemetery that holds victims of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak that killed thousands in the country.
President Ernest Bai Koroma joined mourners for burials on Thursday. Many people have been unable to find loved ones as many victims were too mangled and decomposed to be identified, but the government has vowed to hold respectful burials for all.
“The water took away my mother and sister and they have buried them today. That’s why we are here, to mourn and go back home,” said one survivor, Zainab Kargbo.
The main focus is getting people away from areas still under threat, Zuliatu Cooper, the deputy minister of health and sanitation, told The Associated Press.
“The rains are still pending and there is a possibility that we will have another incident,” he said.


UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

Updated 28 min 17 sec ago
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UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

  • Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week
  • The officials exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus”

BEIJING: The UN counterterrorism chief visited Xinjiang last week despite protests from the US and a rights group that the trip would be inappropriate in light of the human rights conditions in China’s far west region.
Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week, said a statement Sunday from the Chinese foreign ministry. Voronkov and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus,” the statement said.
The US, researchers and rights groups estimate that as many as 1 million ethnic Muslims may be arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang, home to the Uighur and Kazakh minority groups.
Former detainees have told The Associated Press that they were held without charge in “reeducation centers” where they were forced to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. The Chinese government denies there is widespread abuse in these centers, which it says are vocational training schools aimed at combatting extremism and helping Xinjiang residents gain employable skills.
In a conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan conveyed “deep concerns” about Voronkov’s visit.
“Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not,” Sullivan said, adding that Voronkov was putting the UN’s reputation and credibility at risk “by lending credence to these false claims.”
Human Rights Watch said Friday the UN should have sent a human rights expert instead of a counterterrorism official.
China’s foreign ministry did not provide details of Voronkov’s trip to Xinjiang.
“Counterterrorism cannot be linked to specific countries, ethnic groups and religions,” the ministry said in its Sunday statement. “It cannot adopt ‘double standards.’ China supports the UN in playing a central coordination role in international counterterrorism affairs.”