‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending. (File/DPA via AP)
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Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump
  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.


Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group
Updated 10 sec ago

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group
  • Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014
  • Critics say it is Putin’s ‘shadow army,’ promoting Russian interests by providing fighters, military instructors and advisers

MOSCOW: Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa.
Prigozhin said in a statement from his company, Concord, that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014.
“From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name BTG Wagner,” he said.
Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts, has previously denied links with Wagner.
“I myself cleaned the old weapons, figured out bulletproof vests and found specialists who could help me with this,” Prigozhin added.
“These guys — heroes who defended the Syrian people, other people of Arab countries, destitute Africans and Latin Americans — have become the pillars of our motherland,” he said.
Prigozhin, 61, has been hit with EU and US sanctions, accused of being behind a “troll factory” that attempted to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
For years, the Wagner group has been suspected of playing a role in realizing Moscow’s overseas ambitions, with the Kremlin denying any links.
Its presence has been reported in conflict zones including Syria, Mali, Ukraine and the Central African Republic, where it has been accused of abuses and capturing state power.
Critics say it is Putin’s “shadow army,” promoting Russian interests by providing fighters, military instructors and advisers.
Wagner’s presence was forced into the spotlight in 2018 when independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that several Russian-speaking men who killed and mutilated a detainee on video in Syria were Wagner fighters.
Earlier this month, a video was shared on social media seeming to show Prigozhin recruiting inmates of a Russian prison to bolster Wagner’s ranks in Ukraine.
The Russian army has faced difficulties in its seven-month-old military intervention, with Putin last week ordering a partial mobilization of reservists to regain momentum after Kyiv’s forces retook swathes of Moscow-controlled territory in a counter-offensive.
Russian media have reported that Prigozhin controls Wagner’s finances, whereas its operations are managed by Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who allegedly served in Russia’s military intelligence.
Utkin was received at the Kremlin in 2016 for a ceremony paying tribute to “heroes” who served in Syria and has been photographed with Putin.


Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom
Updated 26 September 2022

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom
  • ‘Every Italian government will respect the Constitution,’ religious leader tells Arab News
  • ‘Italy’s attitude toward the Middle East isn’t going to change,’ politician tells Arab News

ROME: Islamic communities in Italy say they do not expect a negative attitude toward the 3 million-plus Muslims living in the country by the new right-wing government that will be formed after Sunday’s general election, and “look forward” to working with the new Cabinet with regard to the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

A concrete change in the country’s leadership is now expected. The far right led by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) party, traditionally bound to the country’s right, gained a solid majority in both branches of Parliament.

Almost certainly in mid-October, Meloni will be asked by President Sergio Mattarella to form a new government.

She will then be the first woman prime minister in Italy, leading what will be the first far-right government since the Second World War.

The new leadership is expected to be tougher than previous governments on illegal migrants, but nothing is expected to change in the traditionally good attitude of Italy toward the Middle East and the Arab world.

Italian political analysts also point out that the new Cabinet is unlikely to show a tough face toward the Muslim population in the country, especially since the League (Lega), the xenophobic and anti-migrant party led by Matteo Salvini, performed poorly in the election. The League will still be part of the majority, but will hold a much less powerful voice.

“We’re absolutely confident that every Italian government will respect the Constitution, which includes in its founding principles freedom of worship. We expect the new government will be attentive to the rights of Islamic communities,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy, told Arab News.

Lafram said for Muslims in Italy, “there are still many problems, from Islamic cemeteries to the need for a law regulating the construction of places of worship for all religions.”

He also expressed his wish for a formal agreement between the Italian state and its Islamic communities to be underwritten soon.

“It’s in the interest of the new government that there be a full legal recognition of Islamic communities. It will boost integration,” he said.

“We expect a lot from a government that promises to represent all Italians. Italian Islamic communities can’t be accused of being close to Islamic fundamentalism. We’re all citizens of the Italian Republic who feel they’re an integral part of Italian society,” Lafram added.

Andrea Delmastro from the Brothers of Italy told Arab News right after the election results were declared: “Good citizens have nothing to fear, no matter their religion, as long as they respect the law. And Italy’s attitude toward the Middle East isn’t going to change.”

In her victory speech, Meloni struck a moderate tone, saying: “If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians, and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country).”

During the electoral campaign, the left warned that Meloni could push Italy into Europe’s illiberal bloc alongside Hungary and Poland, fighting against diversity and agitating against Brussels.

They quoted her past remarks, such as a speech from 2017 in which Meloni said mass-scale illegal immigration to Italy was “planned and deliberate,” carried out by unnamed powerful forces to import low-wage labor and drive out Italians.

“It’s called ethnic substitution,” Meloni said at the time, echoing the far-right “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

She also said Italy “cannot think of Islamic cemeteries in a country where there are not civilized cemeteries even for Italians in several parts of the country.”

In more recent times, she often spoke of “good integration” and “mutual respect” in a country where “the law has no religion and must be respected whatever the citizen’s creed is.”

In defense of her rhetoric, those close to Meloni say she has a strict stance on migrant traffickers and encourages integration, so long as those who come to Italy share and respect its national values and laws.

The main points of Meloni’s political manifesto concerning immigration, Delmastro said, involve the “fight against all forms of antisemitism, Islamic fundamentalism and irregular immigration; the orderly management of legal immigration flows along with the promotion of social and labor inclusion of legal immigrants; and the blocking of vessels to prevent human trafficking, in agreement with North African authorities.”

Imam Izzedin Elzir, former president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, stressed that Muslims in Italy “are a non-partisan community, and we want to be an added value for the country.

“We expect attention from the government, which is expected to implement the Constitution, particularly on religious freedom. I believe we can do a good job together. Governing is different from campaigning for votes.”


Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border

Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border
Updated 26 September 2022

Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border

Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border
  • Nearly 8,600 Russians entered Finland via the land border

HELSINKI: Finland said on Monday it had recorded the year’s busiest weekend in terms of Russians entering the country, after Moscow’s military call-up announcement caused a rush for the border.
“Last weekend was the busiest weekend of the year for traffic on the eastern border,” Mert Sasioglu of the Finnish border guard told AFP.
The border agency said nearly 8,600 Russians entered Finland via the land border on Saturday and nearly 4,200 crossed the other way.
On Sunday, more than 8,300 Russians arrived and nearly 5,100 left.
“The arrival rate is about double what it was a week ago,” Sasioglu said.
“The main reason is the mobilization but it is also partly explained by the fact that both Finland and Russia eased Covid-19 restrictions during the summer.”
The Nordic country announced on September 23 it planned to “significantly restrict the entry of Russian citizens” and would finalize the decision in the “coming days.”
While the restriction is not yet in force, the border guard service said it was ready to apply the new rules “within a day.”
Sasioglu said it was preparing for “difficult developments” as the situation evolved.
“It is possible that when travel is restricted, attempts at illegal border crossings will increase,” he explained.
On Saturday, border guards caught four individuals suspected of crossing the border illegally in the Kuusamo region of eastern Finland. They immediately applied for asylum when detained.


Russia school shooting leaves 13 dead, including children

Russia school shooting leaves 13 dead, including children
Updated 26 September 2022

Russia school shooting leaves 13 dead, including children

Russia school shooting leaves 13 dead, including children
  • Russia’s health ministry said “14 ambulance teams” were working at the scene to help the injured

MOSCOW: The death toll has risen to 13 people, including seven children, after a man opened fire Monday at his former school in central Russia, authorities said.
The attack was the latest in a series of school shootings that have shaken Russia in recent years and came with the country on edge over efforts to mobilize tens of thousands of men to fight in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the “inhuman terrorist attack” in the city of Izhevsk, the Kremlin said, adding that the shooter “apparently belongs to a neo-fascist group.”
According to investigators, the attacker “was wearing a black top with Nazi symbols and a balaclava” when his body was discovered.
He was later identified as a local man born in 1988, who graduated from this school.
Investigators have said two security guards and two teachers were among the victims, while the attacker “committed suicide.”
Authorities previously announced a death toll of nine people but did not specify if that included the suspected shooter.
Investigators said they were conducting a search in his home and looking into his “adherence to neo-fascist views and Nazi ideology.”
The region’s governor Alexander Brechalov confirmed there were “casualties and wounded among children,” speaking in a video statement outside school No88 in Izhevsk.
Rescue and medical workers could be seen in the background, some running inside the school with stretchers.
Russia’s health ministry said “14 ambulance teams” were working at the scene to help the injured, news agencies reported.
Brechalov declared a period of mourning in the region to last until Thursday.
A city of around 630,000 people, Izhevsk is the regional capital of Russia’s Udmurt Republic, located around 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of Moscow.
The attack came just hours after a man had opened fire and severely wounded a recruitment officer at an enlistment center in Siberia.
Russia’s last major school shooting was in April, when an armed man opened fire in a kindergarten in the central Ulyanovsk region, leaving a teacher and two children dead.
The shooter, described as “mentally ill,” was later found dead, with officials saying he had shot himself.
Mass shootings at schools and universities in Russia were rare until 2021, when the country was rocked by two separate killing sprees in the central Russian cities of Kazan and Perm that spurred lawmakers to tighten laws regulating access to guns.
In September 2021, a student dressed in black tactical clothing and helmet armed with a hunting rifle swept through Perm State University buildings killing six people, mostly women, and injuring two dozen others.
The gunman resisted arrest and was shot by law enforcement as he was apprehended and moved to a medical facility for treatment.
It was the second such attack that year, after a 19-year-old former student shot dead nine people at his old school in the Kazan in May.
Investigators said that the gunman suffered from a brain disorder, but was deemed fit to receive a license for the semi-automatic shotgun that he used.
On the day of that attack Putin called for a review of gun control laws and the age to acquire hunting rifles was increased from 18 to 21 and medical checks were strengthened.
Authorities have blamed foreign influence for previous school shootings, saying young Russians have been exposed online and on television to similar attacks in the United States and elsewhere.
Other high-profile shooting cases have taken place in Russia’s army, putting the issue of hazing in the spotlight in the country were military service is compulsory for men aged between 18 and 27.
In November 2020, a 20-year-old soldier killed three fellow servicemen at a military base near the city of Voronezh. In a similar attack in 2019, a young recruit shot dead eight servicemen, saying he faced bullying and harassment in the army.


Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military

Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military
Updated 26 September 2022

Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military

Pakistani military helicopter crashes killing six soldiers -military

QUETTA, Pakistan: A Pakistani military helicopter crashed in the southwest area of the country late on Sunday killing all six soldiers on board, including two officers, the military said on Monday.
The helicopter crashed during a “flying mission” near Harnai in the province of Balochistan, the military’s public relations wing said in a statement. No reason for the crash was given.