Brothers wanted in UK truck disaster probe

A handout photo made available by Essex Police in London on October 29, 2019, shows Christopher Hughes (L) and his brother Ronan Hughes, who are being sought in connection with the discovery of the 39 Vietnamese bodies found in a truck in Grays on October 23. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Brothers wanted in UK truck disaster probe

  • DNA has been collected from relatives as officials in Vietnam and Britain attempt to identify the victims

LONDON: British police probing the deaths of 39 people in a truck said Tuesday they wanted to question two Northern Irish brothers on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking.
Essex Police, which is investigating last week’s grim discovery, said they wanted to speak to Ronan Hughes, 40, and his 34-year-old brother Christopher, who are both from Armagh.
Eight women and 31 men were found Wednesday in a refrigeration truck trailer that entered Britain on a ferry from Belgium. Several Vietnamese families fear their relatives are among the dead.
“Finding and speaking to the Hughes brothers is crucial to our investigation,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper.
“We believe they are in Northern Ireland but they also have links to the Irish Republic.
“Thirty-nine men and women have tragically died and support from the community is going to be vital to help bring those responsible to justice.”
Ambulance crews called to the scene in Grays, just over an hour after the trailer arrived at the nearby port of Purfleet, said all those inside were already dead.
The truck driver, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson from Northern Ireland, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering.
He appeared in an Essex court via video-link on Monday and was remanded in custody to appear next at the Old Bailey in London, England’s central criminal court, on November 25.
Three other people arrested in connection with the investigation — a 38-year-old man, a 38 year-old-woman, and a 46-year-old man — have all been released on bail until November.
The bodies of all of the victims have been moved to a hospital for post-mortem examinations.
It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer or the exact route it traveled.
AFP has spoken to several families of missing Vietnamese nationals — ranging from 15 to 37 years old — feared to be among the dead.
DNA has been collected from relatives as officials in Vietnam and Britain attempt to identify the victims.
 


Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

Updated 14 August 2020

Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

  • Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails
  • The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police

MINSK, Belarus: Belarusian authorities have released dozens of people detained amid demonstrations contesting the results of the presidential election, in an attempt to assuage public anger against a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests.
Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails. In the early morning, volunteers also saw at least 119 detainees being released in the сity of Zhodino just northeast of the Belarusian capital. Ambulances arrived to carry those who apparently were unable to walk on their own.
The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police. “I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late Thursday.
The apologies and the release of detainees follow five days of massive protests, in which crowds of demonstrators swarmed the streets to contest the vote results and demand an end to the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Thursday, thousands of workers rallied outside industrial plants to denounce the police crackdown and push for a recount of Sunday’s vote.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.
On Thursday, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of the capital, Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of detained loved ones.
The human chains grew throughout the day, filling Minsk’s main central squares and avenues and spreading to numerous other cities as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and several other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government. Protesters were shouting “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in the trash. Several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit.
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly emerged Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left. The 37-year-old former teacher had joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.
The massive protests against election results and police brutality have been an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” for his relentless crackdown on dissent. The scope and ferocity of the police clampdown were remarkable even for Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule, triggering widespread anger.
After dismissing protesters as mostly ex-convicts and unemployed, the authoritarian leader kept silent Thursday as the demonstrations spread quickly. Some reports said he was preparing an address to the nation.
A protester died Monday in Minsk when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Media reports challenged the ministry’s claim, alleging that he was killed by police. The place where he died quickly turned into a pilgrimage site, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
The authorities said that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
The brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would “increase the pressure” on Belarus.