Fire at illegal market In India kills at least 19

Updated 27 February 2013
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Fire at illegal market In India kills at least 19

KOLKATA, India: A fire broke out at an illegal six-story plastics market in the Indian city of Kolkata early Wednesday morning, killing at least 19 people, police said.
The blaze, which started before 4 a.m., was likely caused by a short circuit, said West Bengal fire minister Javed Khan. The fire was under control by mid-morning, he said, but toxic gases being released by the blaze were hampering rescue efforts.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said at least 19 people had died. He said police were looking for the owner of the building, which was filled with dozens of small shops selling various plastic products.
Another 10 people were hospitalized in critical condition and the death toll was expected to rise, Khan said.
He called the scene of the fire “an illegal, unauthorized market.”
However, local residents said the market had been operating in the building for nearly 40 years. They said there was only one entrance to the building, which made rescue efforts difficult.
The building housed several warehouses on its upper floors, where chemicals, paper and plastics were stored.
Police said the victims were porters working in the market, who also slept there at night. Eighteen of the dead were men.
Mamata Banerjee, the state’s top elected official, who visited the site soon after the blaze was brought under control, issued an ultimatum to the building’s owners to install fire safety equipment within two months.
Banerjee said the previous government that ruled the state for more than three decades had allowed the building to operate without any permits or safety measures.
She said she has ordered police, fire service and the city administration to file a report on the cause of the blaze and take steps to prevent the recurrence of such fires.
In December 2011, at least 93 people died in a deadly fire in a hospital in Kolkata. Soon after that, Banerjee had promised that her government would crackdown on lax safety procedures in public buildings.
Safety regulations are routinely ignored in India, where fire stairways and evacuation drills are rare. Even if fire extinguishers are present, they are commonly several years old and almost never serviced.


Eritrea responds to Ethiopia PM’s olive branch

Updated 6 min 28 sec ago
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Eritrea responds to Ethiopia PM’s olive branch

ADDIS ABABA: Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is dispatching a delegation to Addis Ababa for “constructive engagement” with arch-foe Ethiopia after peace overtures this month from its new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, a senior Eritrean diplomat said on Wednesday.
Isais made the annoucement — a potentially significant breakthrough in one of Africa’s most protracted conflicts — earlier on Wednesday, Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan, Estifanos Afeworki, said on Twitter. He gave no further details.
Eritrean information minister Yemane Ghebremeskel did not respond to requests for comment.
Eritrea and Ethiopia remain bitter foes after a 1998-2000 conflict that drew comparisons to the First World War, with waves of conscripts forced to march through minefields toward Eritrean trenches, where they were cut down by machine gun fire.
Casuality figures are disputed in both countries although most estimates suggest 50,000 Ethiopian soldiers died, against 20,000 on the Eritrean side.
Even after the end of the war, the border remains heavily militarised and disputed, most notably the town of Badme which was part of Eritrea, according to a 2002 international arbitration ruling.
Since then, Addis has ignored the ruling and refused to pull out troops or officials, to the fury of Asmara.
However, Abiy, a 41-year-old former soldier who has embarked on a radical economic and political reform drive since taking over in March, stunned Ethiopians this month when he said Addis would honor all the terms of the settlement between the two countries, suggesting he was prepared to cede Badme.
In parliament this week, Abiy also acknoewledged the tensions continued to inflict a heavy economic cost on both countries and said Addis should no longer hide this price tag from the Ethiopian people, another stunning departure with the past.
There has so far been no official response to Abiy’s overtures from Eritrea, one of the Africa’s most closed states.