Repairs to Notre Dame cathedral ‘could take decades’ experts warn, as donations worth €600m pour in

It could take decades to repair the damage caused to the Notre Dame cathedral by a massive fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the famous Paris landmark. (AP)
Updated 16 April 2019
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Repairs to Notre Dame cathedral ‘could take decades’ experts warn, as donations worth €600m pour in

  • Chief architect of Cologne cathedral said restoration would be complex
  • L’Oreal and founding Bettencourt family gave €200 million to reconstruction effort

LONDON: It could take decades to repair the damage caused to the Notre Dame cathedral by a massive fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the famous Paris landmark, the chief architect of Cologne cathedral has warned.

His comments came as some €600 million ($680 million) was pledged by numerous French corporations and the country’s richest families to help rebuild the cathedral less than 24 hours after the blaze, according to an AFP tally of donations announced so far.

The latest major contribution came from French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family, which gave €200 million to the reconstruction effort.

Peter Fuessenich, who oversees all construction work for the Gothic cathedral in the German city, told broadcaster RTL on Tuesday that “it will certainly take years, perhaps even decades, until the last damage caused by this terrible fire will be completely repaired.”

Cologne cathedral was heavily damaged during World War II and work to repair it is still ongoing more than 70 years later.

On Tuesday, French investigators probing the devastating blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral questioned workers who were renovating the monument, and who had been replacing its lead covering. The renovation is widely suspected to have caused the inferno after the blaze broke out in an area under scaffolding.

Investigators interviewed witnesses overnight and began speaking to the employees of five different construction companies which were working on the monument, said public prosecutor Remy Heitz.

"Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act," Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to what he expected to be a "long and complex" case.

The architect in charge of the renovation project slated to last until 2022 said that no workers were on the site when the flames first appeared shortly before 7 pm

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READ MORE - Before and After: Notre Dame Cathedral ravaged by huge blaze

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Fuessenich called the fire in Paris “a tragedy with a European dimension” as many churches and cathedrals across the continent were inspired by buildings in France. He said that “when the last stone was set in Notre-Dame, the first one was laid here in Cologne, and in this respect it affects us all very much.”

According to Fuessenich, the timbered roof of Cologne cathedral’s was replaced with an iron frame during the 19th century, meaning a fire there would be less devastating.

However, the architects who restored Windsor Castle after a fire devastated the oldest inhabited castle in the world shared a message with France on Tuesday: Notre-Dame Cathedral would reign magnificent again over Paris, possibly sooner than grieving Parisians expect.

“We shall see Notre-Dame magnificent again,” said Francis Maude, an architect at Donald Insall Associates which led the restoration of Windsor Castle and is now working on restoring the parliamentary Palace of Westminster in London.

“The French can be reassured that it can certainly be done,” he said. “We would be more than ready to help.”

(With Agencies)


Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women

Updated 23 min 29 sec ago
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Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women

  • At least two dozen Chinese nationals and dozens of their Pakistani partners have been arrested in recent weeks in raids by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency
  • Pakistan became a focus of Chinese marriage brokers last year, and activists say that since then as many as 1,000 women and girls have been married off to Chinese men

FAISALABAD, Pakistan: With waves of arrests, Pakistani investigators are trying to unravel trafficking networks that convince impoverished Pakistanis to marry off their daughters to Chinese men for cash, and they say evidence is growing that many of the women and girls are sold into prostitution once in China.
At least two dozen Chinese nationals and dozens of their Pakistani partners have been arrested in recent weeks in raids by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. Pakistani government officials, however, have ordered police to remain quiet about the extent of the networks, fearing it could hurt increasingly close economic ties with Beijing, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.
“We are interested only in stopping the trafficking. Make no mistake, this is trafficking,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the government order. “We think the majority are sold as prostitutes,” he said of the women married in the trafficking schemes.
The AP spoke to seven girls who had been forced to marry Chinese men, four of them still in China. Each described how their new husbands handed them over to paying clients to be raped.
“I was living in hell-like conditions, silently weeping, silently praying for help,” said 20-year-old Natasha Masih. She told of how her husband locked her in a hotel in the remote northwest Chinese city of Urumqi and forced her into prostitution. The AP does not name rape victims, but Masih agreed to her name being used and now after her escape works to help other victims speak out.
Pakistan became a focus of Chinese marriage brokers last year, and activists say that since then as many as 1,000 women and girls have been married off to Chinese men. Most of the women are from Pakistan’s small Christian community, who are among the country’s most desperately poor. Brokers offer families cash to give their daughters as brides, promising them well-off Chinese husbands who would give them a good life. The business is fueled by demand in China, where men outnumber women.
In Pakistan, some Christian pastors are paid to help brokers lure members of their flock into marriages, and the girls — married against their will — become isolated in China, vulnerable to abusive husbands, previous AP reporting found .
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, speaking on local television, denied girls are trafficked to China and sold into prostitution. Trafficking was not discussed during a visit to Pakistan this month by China’s vice president, Wang Qishan. In comments carried in the Pakistani press, Wang denied trafficking was taking place.
“China is denying it is happening, but we are showing the proof,” said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped bring girls back from China.
The two law enforcement officials said one of the trafficking networks raided by police, based in the city of Lahore, had been operating for at least a year. It was protected by corrupt policemen, and the son of a former senior police official served as the lynchpin between the Chinese and Pakistani operatives, the officials said.
One woman, Sumaira, told the AP how her brothers were paid by brokers and forced her into such a marriage in July last year. The 30-year-old said her husband took her first to a house in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and there she was raped each night by Chinese men for a week.
Before they were to leave for China, she convinced her husband to allow her to go home to say farewell to her sisters. There, she refused to return to the husband and screamed at her brothers, “Why did you sell me? How much money did you get for me?’” she said. The brothers beat her, but she managed to escape to the home of an uncle.
Before her marriage, Sumaira had run a beauty salon in a poor, mostly Christian neighborhood of the Punjab town of Gujranwala. “I was a very different person than what you see now,” she said. “Then I had hope. I believed in my future. Now I don’t know.”
Masih told the AP she was married off in November and soon after left her home in Faisalabad, flying to China with her husband. He took her to the northwest of the country, to a small house in a forested area. Three male and two female friends of her husband shared the house.
Her husband forced her to have sex with the men. Then he took her to the Urumqi hotel, where he confined her to a room and sold her into prostitution.
“I bought you in Pakistan,” she said her husband told her. “You belong to me. You are my property.”
Natasha made furtive calls to her parents on her mobile phone, and her mother turned to her church for help. One parishioner, Farooq Masih, formed a group of men from the congregation to try to recue Natasha. One of the men had a younger brother who was a student in China, said Masih, who is not related to Natasha. The brother agreed to pose as a client and pay him to sleep with Natasha.
Instead, when the student went to the hotel in a taxi, he called Natasha and told her to slip out to meet him.
“I saw him and quickly I took my clothes and got into his taxi,” she said. “I didn’t ask his name. I didn’t ask anything, I just said, ‘Brother, thank you.’” Soon she was on a plane to Pakistan.
Farooq Masih and the men from the church have since dedicated hours to unearthing trafficking networks. They recently conducted their own sting operation in Faisalabad, orchestrating a fake marriage that led the Federal Investigation Agency to the brokers and the pastor who solemnized the unions for a fee.
“I am lucky,” Natasha said. “Many girls who were taken there by their husbands are still living a terrible life. ... Now I know what is freedom and what is slavery. In China, I was treated as a slave by my husband.”