14 dead after fire on two vessels off Crimea coast

Smoke rises from a fire at a ship in the Kerch Strait near Crimea January 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 January 2019
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14 dead after fire on two vessels off Crimea coast

  • A fire engulfed gas tankers sailing under the flag of Tanzania, authorities said
  • The ships, the Kandy and the Maestro, had crews of nationals from India and Turkey

MOSCOW: Fourteen people were killed and five were missing off Russia-annexed Crimea in the Black Sea on Monday after a fire engulfed gas tankers sailing under the flag of Tanzania, authorities said.
“There are 11 bodies,” Alexei Kravchenko, spokesman for Russia’s Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport, told AFP.
“Another three people went under water before rescue workers’ eyes.”
Those three are most likely dead, he said.
The ships, the Kandy and the Maestro, had crews of nationals from India and Turkey.
The Kandy had a 17-strong crew, while the Maestro carried 14 people.
Twelve people had survived, Kravchenko said, but “no one knows where the other five people are.”
The fire broke out when one vessel was transferring fuel to the other, driving both crews to jump overboard, said Kravchenko.
“A search-and-rescue operation is continuing,” Kravchenko added.
Authorities in the Crimean city of Kerch were preparing to receive the victims, he added.
The accident struck close to the Kerch Strait, which has become a new flashpoint in tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
In November, Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels in the Kerch Strait as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea.
The confrontation was the first open military clash between Kiev and Moscow since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and a pro-Russian insurgency erupted in eastern Ukraine.


Kosovo PM resigns after being called to war crimes court

Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj talks during an interview with Reuters in Pristina, Kosovo, October 16, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 2 min 19 sec ago
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Kosovo PM resigns after being called to war crimes court

  • More than 10,000 of the dead were ethnic Albanians, almost 2,300 were Serbs and Montenegrins and the remainder included a few hundred Romas

PRISTINA: Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, a wartime commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), said Friday he has resigned after being called as a suspect before a war crimes court in The Hague.
“I received a summons from the special court as a suspect and was offered to go as the prime minister or as an ordinary citizen of Kosovo. I chose the latter,” Haradinaj, 51, told reporters.
He added that he will be questioned “next week.”
The EU-backed court based in The Hague was set up in 2015 to try war crimes allegedly committed by the ethnic Albanian KLA separatists, notably against Serbs, Romas and Kosovo Albanian political opponents during and after the 1998-99 war.
“Responsibility now goes to the president to start consultations to set the date of the (general) election. I will offer myself to the people again to get their trust. I am not accused, but (will be) questioned” by the court, said Haradinaj, visibly shaken after a government meeting.
“The government of the country continues to perform its functions without creating a vacuum,” he added.
According to the constitution, after the prime minister’s resignation, the government is a technical body performing regular duties until a new one is elected.
President Hashim Thaci could nominate a prime minister in consultation with Haradinaj’s ruling coalition to form a new government, but if that fails he must call early elections.
“I respect his (Haradinaj’s) decision and as President of the Republic of Kosovo assure you that I will act based on my constitutional and legal competences and the citizens of Kosovo will be informed of any decisions I make in good time,” Thaci said on Facebook.
According to the president, several other former KLA officers were also summoned, including his adviser Bislim Zyrapi, wartime KLA’s chief of staff.
The resignation comes amid growing tensions with Serbia as the EU-mediated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been in stalemate for months.
In Belgrade, the chairman of Serbian parliament’s Committee for Kosovo, Milovan Drecun, said Haradinaj’s resignation could pave the way to resuming the dialogue.
“Haradinaj has become an insurmountable obstacle for any further talks between Belgrade and Pristina,” Drecun told Beta news agency.
He pointed to Haradinaj’s refusal to abolish the 100 percent tax on goods from Serbia, introduced in November, which Belgrade has set as the condition for restarting the dialogue.
Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, but has agreed to discuss a possible binding agreement on ties with its former province.
The agreement is required for both Pristina and Belgrade if they want to progress on their path to an EU membership.

This is the second time that Haradinaj has resigned after being summoned by a war crimes court.
He was acquitted in 2008 — the same year Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia — and again in 2012 after a retrial was ordered owing to allegations of witness intimidation in the first case.
In an interview with AFP in January, Haradinaj said Kosovo would respond to all the court’s demands.
In mid-January, the special court began interrogations of several ethnic Albanian guerrillas in The Hague, including two other former top KLA officials, Rrustem Mustafa-Remi and Sami Lushtaku.
Kosovo media believe that first indictments are likely to be issued this year.
The tribunal was created following a 2011 Council of Europe report that accused the KLA of the kidnapping and disappearance of 500 civilians, mostly ethnic Serbs and Roma but also ethnic Albanian political opponents.
The Kosovo war — the last conflict in the former Yugoslavia — claimed more than 13,000 lives. It ended after a NATO air campaign forced out the Serbs and put Kosovo under UN protection.
More than 10,000 of the dead were ethnic Albanians, almost 2,300 were Serbs and Montenegrins and the remainder included a few hundred Romas.