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.


Bosnia swears in a three-man presidency dominated by nationalists

Updated 38 min 37 sec ago
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Bosnia swears in a three-man presidency dominated by nationalists

SARAJEVO: Bosnia swore-in its three new presidents on Tuesday, with all eyes on Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik, who will be the first to take the helm of a government riven by ethnic divides.
The three men will rotate seats every eight months under the complex peace deal that ended Bosnia's 1990s war and split power between its three main groups: Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats.
In October voters chose nationalists to represent the first two communities, in a sign of how tribalism continues to shape politics more than two decades after the war.
The three men took their oaths inside Sarajevo's Presidency building before several dozen ambassadors and politicians.
Dodik, a pro-Russian politician who is sanctioned by the US, will co-lead with Bosnian Muslim president Sefik Dzaferovic, who hails from the nationalist conservative SDA party, and Croat president Zeljko Komsic.
Komsic, a Social Democrat, is an outlier among the two nationalists and has called for a "Bosnia of citizens" that would transcend communal divisions.
But he is already facing attacks from the main right-wing Croat party that accuses him of betraying his people and now threatens to obstruct activity in parliament.
"It is currently very difficult to find a common denominator between Dodik, Komsic and Dzaferovic for constructive work," Bosnian political journalist Ranko Mavrak said in a radio interview.
"These three will have to decide whether they want to act as a body that seeks points of agreement or creates problems," he added.
While the Dayton Peace Accords that designed Bosnia's power-sharing arrangement ended a devastating war, critics say the system has entrenched communal divisions and hampered effective governance.
The country's unwieldy government is further complicated by two separate administrations in its highly-autonomous sub-regions: one for Serbs and one shared by Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
Those so-called 'entities' are strung together by weak central institutions.
Dodik's elevation to the top office could mark another blow to the fabric of a country he has previously skewered as a "failed concept."
The firebrand led Bosnia's Serb-run half for over a decade and periodically threatened to hold a referendum on its secession.
Last year the US placed him on a blacklist for undermining the country's peace agreement.
The 59-year-old seemed to soften his tone slightly after he was elected to the national presidency, saying he wants to work with Bosnian Croats and Muslims "in the interest of all."
On Tuesday he repeated his assurance that he did not want to "act to the detriment of anyone" and wished for "effective cooperation".
Political analyst Tanja Topic said the politician appeared to be making a "conciliatory gesture," though "it is still difficult to say whether Dodik will be constructive and whether he will work in the interest of the state."
A day earlier Dodik had repeated his demands to undo parts of the Dayton Peace Accords, including shutting down the office of the High Representative -- an international envoy that has been sent by the UN since 1995 to oversee the peace deal.
"My policy is not changing, it's just my workplace that's changing," he said on Monday.
Among ordinary Bosnians, there is little hope for major changes in a paralysed political system that has allowed corruption to flourish and stalled economic reforms for years.
Unemployment affects up to one third of the country, where large numbers are migrating abroad for work.
"There's nothing more to expect here," said Almir Korjenic, a 32-year-old applying for a work visa at the Slovenian embassy, summing up a widespread sense of political fatigue.
"(The politicians) fought each other before the elections to position themselves well after the elections and resume looting the country," he said.