Anger mounts after deadly Marseille building collapse

Firemen remove rubble at the site where two buildings collapsed in Marseille. (BMPM/SM/LOIC AEDO/AFP)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Anger mounts after deadly Marseille building collapse

  • ‘Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings’
  • ‘It’s unthinkable that such things happen in our time’

MARSEILLE: French officials vowed to inspect all Marseille buildings “unsuitable” for habitation as anger rose over the collapse of two buildings in the Mediterranean city, where up to eight people are feared dead.
A fifth body was recovered on Wednesday morning under rubble of the dilapidated buildings, which crumbled suddenly on Monday morning in Noailles, a working-class district in the heart of the port city.
The dead include two women and three men, prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said. According to authorities, a total of five to eight people could have died in the collapse.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told lawmakers in Paris that he had ordered a building by building audit before an “ambitious program for ensuring safe conditions” along with Marseille authorities.
“Nearly 6,000 properties have been identified as at risk” in the city, he said, representing some 44,000 lodgings in lower-class neighborhoods, calling the situation unacceptable.
Rescuers have been delicately searching what is left of the buildings. A third adjoining building partially collapsed on Monday night.
Residents said Tuesday the structural risks of the buildings and others like them were widely known, but that city officials did little when alerted about them.
“Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings,” said Patrick Lacoste, a spokesman for a local housing action group.
“People died for nothing, even though we knew.”
“It’s hell here, they know that it’s crap and now people die for nothing,” said local resident Toufik Ben Rhouma. The disaster, he added, was “100 percent the fault of city hall.”
“It’s been 10 years that I have been living here and I have never had anyone come and inspect my apartment,” said a woman who identified herself as Sophie. Her neighbor said she hadn’t seen any inspector in 27 years.
On Tuesday afternoon, some residents returned to their homes in neighboring buildings to pack up belongings in bags and suitcases, some leaving carrying televisions with them, an AFP reporter said.
Only one of the buildings was occupied, as the two others were in such a bad state that they had been condemned.
Google Maps images taken in recent months showed the collapsed buildings had large cracks in their facades.
People had been living in nine of the 10 apartments in one of the buildings, while a shop occupied the ground floor.
A young waiter watched the scene with tears in his eyes, anxious for news of an Italian woman who lived in the building.
“She was a great girl, she used to come and study at the bar,” he said, without giving his name.
Abdou Ali, 34, came in search of his mother after she did not come to collect her youngest son from school on Monday afternoon.
“I haven’t had any news,” he said, wandering among the rescuers.
Sophie Dorbeaux meanwhile said she had left the block on Sunday night to stay with her parents because her door, like several others, was not opening or closing properly because of the building’s structural problems.
“The walls had been moving for several weeks and cracks had appeared,” the 25-year-old philosophy student said.
“It could have been me,” she added, visibly shaken.
Marseille city authorities, who have evacuated and rehoused 100 residents from nearby buildings as a precaution, believe heavy rain may have contributed to the collapse.
But the incident — rare in a major Western city — has already sparked a political row over the quality of housing available to Marseille’s poorest residents.
The neighborhood is home to many buildings in a similarly dilapidated condition, some of them run by slum landlords.
Marseille authorities began a vast upgrade plan for the city center in 2011.
But a 2015 government report said about 100,000 Marseille residents were living in housing that was dangerous to their health or security.
“It’s unthinkable that such things happen in our time,” said Christian Gouverneur, who owns a flat in an apartment block opposite the collapsed buildings.


Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

Handout photo released by the Mexican presidency showing Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador answering questions during a press conference at the Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City on March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

  • “The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement

MEXICO CITY: The 500-year-old wounds of the Spanish conquest were ripped open afresh on Monday when Mexico’s president urged Spain and the Vatican to apologize for their “abuses” — a request Madrid said it “firmly rejects.”
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, reopened the debate over Spain’s centuries of dominance in the New World with a video posted to social media, urging Spanish King Felipe VI and Pope Francis to apologize for the conquest and the rights violations committed in its aftermath.
“I have sent a letter to the king of Spain and another to the pope calling for a full account of the abuses and urging them to apologize to the indigenous peoples (of Mexico) for the violations of what we now call their human rights,” Lopez Obrador, 65, said in the video, filmed at the ruins of the indigenous city of Comalcalco.
“There were massacres and oppression. The so-called conquest was waged with the sword and the cross. They built their churches on top of the (indigenous) temples,” he said.
“The time has come to reconcile. But let us ask forgiveness first.”
Spain’s reaction was swift and unequivocal.
“The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement.
“The arrival, 500 years ago, of Spaniards to present Mexican territory cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” it said.
“Our two brother nations have always known how to read our shared past without anger and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a shared history and extraordinary influence.”

Lopez Obrador took office in December after a landslide election win that represented a firm break with Mexico’s traditional political parties.
A folksy populist, he pulls no punches in going after traditional elites — but had so far cultivated cordial relations with Spain, including during a visit to Mexico City by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez earlier this year.
Lopez Obrador made the remarks during a visit to his native Tabasco state, in southern Mexico.
He was later due to visit the nearby city of Centla. On March 14, 1519, the site was the scene of one of the first battles between Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and the indigenous peoples of the land now known as Mexico.
With the help of horses, swords, guns and smallpox — all unknown in the New World at the time — Cortes led an army of less than 1,000 men to defeat the Aztec empire, the start of 300 years of Spanish rule over Mexico.