Fire guts ancient part of Bangladesh’s capital, killing 81

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Bangladeshi rescuers carry the body of a victim from one of the buildings razed by a fire in Dhaka on Thursday. (AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
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Firefighters are seen at the scene of a devastating fire in Dhaka's old district of Chawkbazar on Thursday.(AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
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Relatives of victims mourn near the site of a burnt warehouse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Thursday. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
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Firefighters work at the scene of a fire that broke out at a chemical warehouse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2019

Fire guts ancient part of Bangladesh’s capital, killing 81

  • Around 50 people were injured in the fire that lasted more than 9 hours
  • Some floors of the destroyed buildings had chemicals and plastic in storage

DHAKA, Bangladesh: A devastating fire raced through densely packed buildings in a centuries-old district in Bangladesh’s capital, killing at least 81 people, officials and witnesses said Thursday.
The fire in Dhaka’s Chawkbazar area was mostly under control after more than 10 hours of frantic firefighting efforts. About 50 people were injured, with some critically burned.
The district dating to the Mughal era 400 years ago is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys, with residences commonly above shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors. Denisens of the Muslim-majority nation throng to Chawkbazar each year for traditional goods to celebrate iftar, when the daily fast is broken during Ramadan.
“I was talking to a customer, suddenly he shouted at me, ‘Fire! Fire!’” said Javed Hossain, a survivor who came to assess the damage to his grocery store Thursday afternoon. “I said ‘Oh, Allah,’ in a fraction of a second the fire caught my shop.”
Hossain’s brother took his hand and they leaped onto the street before the shop was engulfed in flames.
Outside the gutted store, the road was strewn with charred vehicles, pieces of still-burning metal and plastics and hundreds of cans of body deodorant.
The blaze started late Wednesday night in one building and quickly spread to others, fire department Director General Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed said.
Many of the victims were trapped inside the buildings, said Mahfuz Riben, a control room official for the Fire Service and Civil Defense in Dhaka.
“Our teams are working there but many of the recovered bodies are beyond recognition. Our people are using body bags to send them to the hospital morgue, this is a very difficult situation,” he told The Associated Press.
Another control room official, Russel Shikder, said 81 bodies had been recovered.

The fire services director, Maj. AKM Shakil Newaz, said many were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Ambulances were arriving carrying bodies, and relatives were mourning in front of the morgue.
First responders were delayed in reaching the site in part because nearby roads were closed for national holiday commemorations on Thursday. Just after midnight as the fire blazed, Bangladesh’s prime minister and president laid wreaths at a monument less than a mile (1.3 kilometers) away to commemorate protesters who died in a 1952 demonstration for the right to speak Bengali, the local language.
Fire officials said the road closures worsened traffic, slowing down some of the fire trucks rushing to the site.
Most buildings in Chawkbazar are used both for residential and commercial purposes despite warnings of the potential for high fatalities from fires after one killed at least 123 people in 2010. Authorities had promised to bring the buildings under regulations and remove chemical warehouses from the residential buildings.
A government eviction drive in Chawkbazar and other areas of Old Dhaka was met with protests last May right before Eid, the beginning of Ramadan, by business owners and residents.
Dr. Md. Manjur Morshed, an assistant professor of urban planning at Khulna University of Engineering and Technology in Khulna, said government regulations are routinely flouted in Chawkbazar.
“This is a historic area with a distinct culture,” he said. “They are not really abiding by the government’s rules.”
Such tragedies are shockingly common in Bangladesh, where fires, floods, ferry sinkings and other disasters regularly claim dozens of lives or more.
In 2012, a fire raced through a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing at least 112 people trapped behind its locked gates. Less than six months later, another building housing garment factories collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.
The death toll from the latest fire could still rise because some of the injured people were in critical condition, said Samanta Lal Sen, head of a burn unit in the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Sen said at least nine of the critically injured people were being treated in his unit.
Witnesses told local TV stations that many gas cylinders stored in the buildings continued to explode one after another. They said the fire also set off explosions in fuel tanks of some vehicles that were stuck in traffic in front of the destroyed buildings.
Some reports suggested many of the fatalities were pedestrians, shoppers or diners who died quickly as several gas cylinders exploded, and the fire engulfed nearby buildings very quickly.


US lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump

Updated 12 December 2019

US lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump

  • Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him
  • If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON: Democrats in the US House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching President Donald Trump as a key House committee began debating formal articles of impeachment that are expected to be brought to the House floor next week.
The House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider the two articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive (branch) — and the president becomes a dictator,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, said in opening remarks.
But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, accused Democrats of being predisposed toward impeachment and argued that the evidence did not support it.
“You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Collins said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax. But Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said his misconduct was in plain sight.
“The president was the first and best witness in this case. The president admitted to his wrongdoing and corrupt intent on national television,” Jayapal said. “The president is the smoking gun.”
Democrats spent much of the evening denouncing Trump’s conduct and shaming Republicans for defending him, while Republicans railed against what they see as a partisan and unjust inquiry.
“President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Hank Johnson. “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical,” referring to the era of racial segregation.
Republican Jim Jordan contended the process was being driven by animus toward Trump and his allies.
“They don’t like us — that’s what this is about,” Jordan said. “They don’t like the president’s supporters, and they dislike us so much they’re willing to weaponize the government.”
The committee is expected to approve the charges sometime on Thursday. The full Democratic-led House is likely to follow suit next week, making Trump the third president in US history to be impeached.
Following the House vote, charges will go to the Senate for a trial. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.

QUICK TRIAL?
On Wednesday, the president and senior Republicans appeared to be coalescing around the idea of a shorter proceeding in that chamber.
After initially saying he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy trial in the Senate, Trump seemed to be leaning toward a streamlined affair that would allow him to move quickly past the threat to his presidency, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.
Trump’s new thinking could remove a potential source of friction with Senate Republicans, who appeared to balk at the idea of a long trial with witnesses.
But it was not yet clear whether Trump was ready to abandon his demand for witnesses, such as Biden, which would trigger demands from Democrats for high-profile Trump administration witnesses.
“I think as an American the best thing we can do is deep-six this thing,” a staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, told reporters on Wednesday.
Asked why he thought Republican senators were now talking about a short trial, possibly with no witnesses, Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said: “I think the answer is obvious. They want to move on because obviously they think more attention paid to this is not in their best interest in re-election.”
Democrats say Trump endangered the US Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in next year’s election.
The articles of impeachment unveiled on Tuesday do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of Trump’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers from more conservative districts had argued the focus should stay on Ukraine.
Many Democrats in those swing districts remain unsure how they will vote on impeachment, although with a 36-seat lead over Republicans in the House, passage is expected.
Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, where Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum to drive the president from office.
If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
McConnell, a close Trump ally, says no decision has been made over how to conduct the trial. Approving the rules will require agreement by the majority of the Senate’s 100 members