Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’ -paper

People wait to enter the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in this September 29, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’ -paper

  • US and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems

OTTAWA: A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after suffering unusual health symptoms say their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.
Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and US diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.
The diplomats complained that the foreign ministry — unlike the US State Department — had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care has been difficult, they added.
“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.
Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.
An official at the Canadian foreign ministry did not respond directly when asked about the diplomats’ complaints that they had been abandoned, but said the situation was very difficult.
“It is really an unprecedented type of incident, which has a lot of uncertainty. Our response to it has evolved since we first became aware of it,” said the official, adding that Ottawa had done its best to make medical care available.
The official requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
US and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.
NBC News said in September that US officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) — the union representing rank and file diplomats — said the initial government reaction had been inadequate, in part because no one had experience of such a problem.
“Everyone is worried because if you don’t know what something is, and it’s unpredictable, nobody can say for sure that (it) isn’t going to happen again,” PAFSO president Pamela Isfeld said in a phone interview. “I totally do not blame them for being very unhappy with this.”
Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said she was deeply troubled by the health problems the diplomats were experiencing.


At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 57 sec ago
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At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and nine other injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Police forces walk near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP/ANP)

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Emergency services stand at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP)

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)