Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 68

Update Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 68
The boat was carrying around 90 people, of whom around 50 were pilgrims on their way to the centuries-old Hindu temple for a major festival, according to Bangladesh police. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 68

Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 68
  • Incident on Sunday near the northern town of Boda the deadliest in years
  • Mobile phone footage showed the overcrowded boat suddenly flipping over

BODA, Bangladesh: Rescuers recovered 17 bodies Tuesday after a boat overloaded with religious pilgrims capsized in Bangladesh, taking the death toll to 68 as anxious relatives waited for news of several passengers still missing.

Sunday’s incident near the northern town of Boda was the deadliest maritime incident in years in the South Asian country, which is crisscrossed by rivers where overcrowding on aged vessels is common.

Twenty-two of those killed were children, authorities said, with video footage suggesting some were as young as around four years old.

The small vessel was on its way to a popular temple when it flipped over in a river as onlookers screamed from the shore, in horrific scenes captured on cellphones.

Boda police chief Sujay Kumar Roy said rescue workers including firefighters, navy divers and villagers were searching for miles downstream on the Karotoa River, where the tragedy occurred.

The boat was carrying around 90 people, of whom around 50 were pilgrims on their way to the centuries-old Hindu temple for a major festival, according to police.

“The rescuers found more than a dozen bodies downstream and also under the water. Still a few more people are missing,” Roy said.

Abdur Razzaque, a police inspector, said at least 30 of the dead were women.

“Among the fatalities, 67 people were Hindus and one was Muslim. We have handed over the bodies. The search has been suspended today and will resume tomorrow,” he said

“A committee has been formed to probe the incident,” he said, adding the country’s railway minister had visited the scene to oversee rescue efforts.

Dozens of relatives of those missing were still crowding the riverbank on Tuesday, although most had left after authorities handed over their family members’ bodies.

“Three women of my family were missing since the boat capsized,” said one distraught relative, Bikash Chandra, late on Monday.

“We found one in the morning around 10:00 am, who was rescued earlier. But I couldn’t find the other two yet.”

Police on Tuesday said that around 10 survivors were treated at the hospital before being sent home, police said.

District police chief Sirajul Huda said Monday the boat was carrying three times its permitted capacity.

“The boatman asked some people to disembark in an effort to ease the weight-load. But no one listened,” he said.

Mobile phone footage aired by TV station Channel 24 showed the overcrowded boat suddenly flipping over, spilling the passengers into the muddy brown river.

Dozens of people watching from the shore started shouting and screaming. The weather was calm at the time.

Thousands of Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh visit the famous Bodeshwari Temple every year.

Sunday marked the start of Durga Puja, a major Hindu festival drawing large crowds at the temple.

Last December, around 40 people perished when a packed three-story ferry caught fire in southern Bangladesh.

A ferry sank in Dhaka in June 2020 after a collision with another vessel, killing at least 32 people.

And at least 78 people perished in 2015 when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo vessel in a river west of the capital.


Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit
Updated 29 November 2022

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit
  • This is the first formal state visit of Biden’s presidency and US officials say the choice of France reflects both deep historical ties and their intense current partnership in confronting Russia
  • The breadth of Macron’s entourage — including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts — illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron was set to arrive in Washington Tuesday for a rare state visit hosted by Joe Biden, but hard-nosed disagreements about US-EU trade will loom over the pomp and ceremony at the White House.
Due to Covid delays, this is the first formal state visit of Biden’s presidency and US officials say the choice of France for the honor reflects both deep historical ties and their intense current partnership in confronting Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Biden will host Macron with a full ceremonial military welcome, a poignant visit to Arlington National Cemetery, an Oval Office sit down, a private dinner with their spouses Wednesday and the state banquet on Thursday, where Grammy-award winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform.
Compared to Macron’s edgy first experience of a state visit as the guest of Donald Trump in 2018, this trip — concluding with a stop Friday to the once-French city of New Orleans — will be a carefully choreographed display of transatlantic friendship.
Certainly the diplomatic furor that erupted last year when Australia canceled a deal for French submarines and instead signed up for US nuclear subs is now buried.
But even with little risk of Trump-style fireworks, Macron has major grievances to air.
Top of these is tension over Biden’s signature green industry policy, the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, which will pump billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, with strong backing for American-made products.
Europeans fear an unfair US advantage in the rapidly emerging sector just as they are reeling from the economic consequences of the Ukraine war and Western attempts to end reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Talk in Europe is now increasingly on whether the bloc should respond with its own subsidies for homegrown products, effectively starting a trade war.
“China favors its own products, America favors its own products. It might be time for Europe to favor its own products,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France 3 radio on Sunday.
Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of think-tank GMF, said Macron will tell Biden “there’s a contradiction between an administration that constantly talks of alliances... and at the same time takes a decision like the IRA that will impact allies’ economies.”
Another gripe in Europe is the high cost for US liquid natural gas exports — surged to try and replace canceled Russian deliveries.
Responding to accusations that the United States is effectively profiteering from the Ukraine war, a senior US administration official said this was a “false claim.”
The official also played down IRA-related tensions, saying a “very constructive set of conversations” is underway on how to prevent European companies from being shut out.
To underline the importance of the issue for Paris, Macron met with dozens of business executives ahead of his departure to Washington, urging them to keep investing in France. These included representatives from US giants Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s.
The breadth of Macron’s entourage — including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts — illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit.
However, at the White House, a senior official said the main goal is to nurture the “personal relationship, the alliance relationship” with France — and between Biden and Macron.
That more modest sounding goal will include improving coordination on helping Ukraine to repel Russia and the even more vexing question of how to manage the rise of the Chinese superpower.
“We are not allies on the same page,” one adviser to Macron told AFP, forecasting “challenging” talks with Biden.
Despite his strong support for Kyiv, Macron’s insistence on continuing to maintain dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has irked American diplomats.
The China question — with Washington pursuing a more hawkish tone and EU powers trying to find a middle ground — is unlikely to see much progress.
“Europe has since 2018 its own, unique strategy for relations with China,” tweeted French embassy spokesman Pascal Confavreux in Washington.
A senior US official said even if their approaches were “not identical,” they should be at least “speaking from a common script.”


Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family
Updated 29 November 2022

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family
  • Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, is suffering "monstruous injustice" at the hands of Iranian authorities
  • He is one of several Western nationals detained in Iran, in what foreign-based activists say is a bid to extract concessions

BRUSSLES: A Belgian aid worker detained in Iran is on a hunger strike over the “inhuman” treatment by his captors, his family said on Tuesday, expressing worries about his failing health.
Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, is suffering “monstruous injustice” at the hands of Iranian authorities, who arrested him in Tehran in February, they said in a statement.
He is one of several Western nationals detained in Iran, in what foreign-based activists say is a bid to extract concessions.
Iran is seeking the return of one of its diplomats, Assadollah Assadi, who is in prison in Belgium serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty last year of masterminding a foiled 2018 bomb plot outside Paris.
Vandecasteele has been kept in solitary confinement since being seized and is suffering a growing number of physical afflictions, his family said.
They included “major weight loss, haematomas on his toes, fingernail loss, and worrying dental and gastric problems,” they said.
He started his hunger strike two weeks ago, consuming nothing more than bread and water once a day.
His last communication with his family was on September 1, and they said they feared he was suffering “irreversible harm” from the “disgraceful” detention conditions.
The bomb plot Assadi was convicted for was an attempted attack on a conference outside Paris held by an exiled Iranian opposition group.
Iran insists that Assadi should enjoy diplomatic immunity, even though he was arrested in Germany, away from Austria where he was accredited to work in Iran’s embassy in Vienna.
Belgium this year agreed a prisoner-swap treaty with Iran seen as opening the door for Assadi to be sent home if Tehran releases Vandecasteele.
But the treaty has generated controversy, with some Belgian politicians, Iranian opposition groups and the United States all coming out against it as allowing an Iranian “terrorist” to escape justice.


UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants
Updated 29 November 2022

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants
  • The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the 32-year-old was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England
  • NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy

LONDON: UK police on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of playing a “key role” in the deaths of at least 27 people who drowned attempting to cross the Channel in a dinghy last November.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the 32-year-old was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England, on suspicion of being “a member of the organized crime group who conspired to transport the migrants to the UK in a small boat.”
NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy.
French prosecutors have so far charged 10 people for their alleged role in the disaster on November 24 last year.
It was the worst accident in the Channel since 2018, when the narrow strait became a key route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempting to reach England from France.
The vessel sank after leaving the French coast, leading to the death of all but two of those aboard. Four people remain missing.
The suspect will appear before London’s Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday, where extradition proceedings will commence.
“This is a significant arrest and comes as part of extensive inquiries into the events leading to these tragic deaths in the Channel,” said NCA deputy director Craig Turner said.
“The individual detained today is suspected of having played a key role in the manslaughter of those who died.
“Working closely with our French partners we are determined to do all we can to get justice for the families of those whose lives were lost,” he added.
Among the 27 — aged seven to 47 — were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese migrant.


UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising
Updated 29 November 2022

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising
  • Penny Appeal joins Crypto Giving Tuesday
  • Last year $2.4m raised from digital-asset holders

LONDON: UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal has announced that it would take part in Crypto Giving Tuesday, the biggest day for cryptocurrency generosity, to raise digital donations for its efforts to support the victims of Pakistan’s floods.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistan’s authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

“Bitcoin is more than just an investment; it can also be used to make charitable donations, that’s why on Nov. 29, crypto enthusiasts around the world will be taking part in Crypto Giving Tuesday,” the international charity said in a statement.

“Just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday kicked off the holiday shopping season, Crypto Giving Tuesday is a day for people to show their support for charities and nonprofit organizations that accept cryptocurrency donations,” it added.

Penny Appeal said it has been utilizing platforms like The Giving Block, which helps facilitate cryptocurrency fundraising for nonprofit organizations, to make it easy for people to donate using their digital assets.

The charity’s projects include humanitarian response work, solar-powered water wells, climate-smart villages and education sponsorships for orphans. They are currently working on building permanent homes for those who have lost everything in the floods in Pakistan.

“We’re extremely excited to be able to receive cryptocurrency donations,” said Adeem Younis, founder of Penny Appeal. “Cryptocurrency is playing an increasingly important role in philanthropy, and we hope that Crypto Giving Tuesday will encourage more people to donate cryptocurrencies to support life-saving aid for millions of victims of the Pakistan floods.”

Last year, the day raised over $2.4 million and saw nonprofit participation rise by 839 percent, according to data provided by The Giving Block.

“This year, the team behind Crypto Giving Tuesday is hoping to build on that success and raise even more money for charity,” Penny Appeal said.


Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers
Updated 29 November 2022

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers
  • The unnamed Kherson official cooperated with the occupation authorities and helped with the functioning of public services under the Russians
  • The official, who could not be reached for comment, faces up to 12 years in prison under the allegations if prosecuted and found guilty

KYIV: Ukraine has detained a deputy head of newly liberated Kherson’s city council on suspicion of aiding and abetting Russian occupation forces that seized control of the city in March, Ukraine’s state prosecutor said on Tuesday.
The Kherson official, who was not named in the statement, cooperated with the occupation authorities and helped with the functioning of public services under the Russians, the prosecutor said.
The official, who could not be reached for comment, faces up to 12 years in prison under the allegations if prosecuted and found guilty. The official was in custody, but could post bail, the prosecutor said.
Ukraine proclaimed the liberation of Kherson on Nov. 11 after Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February pulled out of the city in the south of the country and crossed to the other side of the Dnipro River.
The withdrawal ended more than eight months of Russian occupation of Kherson, which was home to almost 300,000 people before the war, but Russian forces are now frequently shelling the city from across the Dnipro.
Ukraine faces a challenge restoring order in Kherson. Tens of thousands of residents have fled, electricity and basic utilities are unavailable and security forces are hunting for possible collaborators and Russian soldiers in disguise.
Ukraine has legislation criminalizing the act of collaboration, but the Kherson city council official is suspected of the slightly different crime of “assisting an aggressor state.”