Four badly injured, two missing in Paris building blast

Update Four badly injured, two missing in Paris building blast
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Firemen use a water canon as they fight a blaze on June 21, 2023 in Paris. Firefighters fought a blaze on Paris’ Left Bank that is sent smoke soaring over the domed Pantheon monument and prompted evacuation of buildings in the neighborhood. (AP)
Update  A blast ripped through a street in the busy Latin Quarter of central Paris on Wednesday, injuring 29 people. (AFP)
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A blast ripped through a street in the busy Latin Quarter of central Paris on Wednesday, injuring 29 people. (AFP)
Update Rescue workers were searching for two missing people feared buried under rubble, authorities said. (UGC/Twitter)
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Rescue workers were searching for two missing people feared buried under rubble, authorities said. (UGC/Twitter)
Update  A blast ripped through a street in the busy Latin Quarter of central Paris on Wednesday, injuring 29 people. (AFP)
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A blast ripped through a street in the busy Latin Quarter of central Paris on Wednesday, injuring 29 people. (AFP)
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Updated 21 June 2023
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Four badly injured, two missing in Paris building blast

Four badly injured, two missing in Paris building blast
  • Facade of building in 5th arrondissement collapsed, emergency services checking if anyone still inside
  • Paris police official said 29 people were injured, including four in critical condition, two missing

An explosion potentially caused by a gas leak ripped through a building in central Paris on Wednesday, injuring four people seriously and causing a wave of destruction in a historic district of the capital, officials said.
Rescue workers were in the evening still searching the rubble for two missing individuals who had not been accounted for, according to prosecutors.
Police said 29 people were injured, with four of them in a serious condition.
The blast was followed by a major fire which caused the building, housing a fashion school, to collapse. Images showed wreckage littering the area around the building, as the flames smoldered.
Some 70 fire trucks and 270 firefighters battled the blaze. Nine doctors were also at the scene.
The fire service had said there had been “an explosion” which had “caused the collapse of two buildings,” but police later said only one building had collapsed.
Several witnesses told AFP at the scene they had heard “a giant explosion.”
Windows as far as 400 meters (440 yards) away were shattered, AFP reporters said.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo assembled a crisis unit and wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts go first and foremost to the victims and their loved ones.”
The “violent” fire which broke out after the explosion has now been “contained,” Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said at the scene, adding that “work is still taking place under the rubble” to find any more possible victims.
The firefighters “prevented the spread of the fire to two adjoining buildings which were seriously destabilized by the explosion” and “were evacuated,” Nunez added.
The blast was caused by a “gas explosion,” the district’s mayor said on Twitter, although this was not confirmed by other officials.
Florence Berthout, mayor of the 5th district in central Paris, said the main building affected is a private fashion school — called Paris American Academy — adjoining the former Val-de-Grace military hospital.
According to the mayor, the noise of the “quite enormous” explosion spread “in part of the district.”
An investigation into the causes of the blast was launched immediately, prosecutors said.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had earlier asked on Twitter for people to stay away from the area to avoid hindering the massive deployment of firefighters and police.
He has now cut short a visit to the eastern city of Nancy to head to the scene.
AFP pictures taken at the site showed tall flames, and smoke billowing from the building, situated at Place Alphonse-Laveran, close to the Luxembourg Gardens.
The area is at the edge of the Latin Quarter, a top tourism area in the French capital.
“It was like in the movies,” said Anthony Halbert, who runs a butcher’s shop in the same street as the destroyed building.
“We heard a second explosion, less than two minutes after the first, and we watched the front of the building crumble,” he said.
Alexis, a 23-year-old student living across from the building, said he heard “a huge bang,” and then his windows were blown out.
“It was super scary, there was smoke, and debris, and leaves flying,” he said. “We didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack.”
Sarah Taheraly, who works at the nearby Institut Curie, a medical research center, said she felt her building tremble. “It was like a muffled sound,” she said.
Another witness, working at the nearby Catholic education secretariat SGEC, said: “There was a big noise. I fell off my chair during a meeting, and so did others.”
One of his colleagues had noticed a strong smell of gas in the street just before the explosion, said the man who declined to give his name.
However, officials said they did not have enough evidence to determine the cause of the blast with certainty.
Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau told reporters that “we are obviously counting on the lightly injured people to provide the investigation with input so we can understand what happened.”
There have been several incidents of gas-related blasts in the French capital.
The explosion recalled a massive blast that rocked Paris in January 2019, when a suspected leak in a buried gas pipe destroyed a building on the Rue de Trevise in the ninth district, killing four people including two firefighters.
The shockwave blew out scores of nearby windows, and dozens of families were forced to evacuate their homes for months. Much of the street still remains off limits four years after the disaster.
Paris city hall has been charged with involuntary manslaughter over that blast, and legal wrangling over the exact cause continues.


US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate

US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate
Updated 9 sec ago
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US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate

US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate

WASHINGTON: A US State Department official who quit this week said on Thursday her resignation was precipitated by an administration report to Congress that she said falsely stated Israel was not blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza, prompting her to resign in protest of President Joe Biden’s Israel policy.

Stacy Gilbert, who served in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, was a subject matter expert working on the report.

“There is so clearly a right and wrong, and what is in that report is wrong,” Gilbert said in an interview.

The United Nations and aid groups have long complained of the dangers and obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza.

As the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has exceeded 36,000 and a humanitarian crisis has engulfed the enclave, human rights groups and other critics have faulted the US for providing weapons to Israel and largely defending Israel’s conduct.

The State Department submitted the 46-page unclassified report earlier this month to Congress as required under a new National Security Memorandum that Biden issued in early February.

Among other conclusions, the report said that in the period after Oct. 7 Israel “did not fully cooperate” with US and other efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza.

But it said this did not amount to a breach of a US law that blocks the provision of arms to countries that restrict US humanitarian aid.

Gilbert, who worked for the State Department for over 20 years, said she notified her office the day the State Department report was released that she would resign. Her last day was Tuesday.

US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Thursday that he would not comment on personnel issues but that the department welcomes diverse points of view.

He said the administration stood by the report and continued to press the government of Israel to avoid harming civilians and urgently expand humanitarian access to Gaza.

“We are not an administration that twists the facts, and allegations that we have are unfounded,” Patel said.

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gilbert’s accusations.

Gilbert’s bureau was one of the four that contributed to a classified initial options memo, reported exclusively by Reuters in late April, that informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Israel might be violating international humanitarian law.

Gilbert said the State Department removed subject matter experts from working on the report to Congress when the document was a rough draft about 10 days before it was due. She said the report was then edited by more senior officials.

In contrast to the published version, the last draft she saw stated that Israel was blocking humanitarian assistance, Gilbert said.

Officials who resigned prior to Gilbert include Arabic language spokesperson Hala Rharrit and Annelle Sheline of the human rights bureau.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s air and land war in Gaza. Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fighters crossed from Gaza into southern Israel on Oct. 7 last year, killed 1,200 people and abducted more than 250, according to Israeli tallies.


'Real verdict' will be November 5 election, Trump says 

'Real verdict' will be November 5 election, Trump says 
Updated 1 min 41 sec ago
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'Real verdict' will be November 5 election, Trump says 

'Real verdict' will be November 5 election, Trump says 
  • Faving the media after he was declared guilty on all counts, Trump dismisses trial as "rigged, disgraceful"
  • "I'm a very innocent man, and it's OK. I'm fighting for our country. I'm fighting for our constitution,” he insisted

NEW YORK CITY: Former president Donald Trump said the "real verdict" would be the US election in November after a New York jury convicted him on all charges in his hush money case on Thursday.
"This was a rigged, disgraceful trial. The real verdict is going to be November 5, by the people. And they know what happened here, and everybody knows what happened here," Trump said as he left the court.
"I'm a very innocent man, and it's OK. I'm fighting for our country. I'm fighting for our constitution."


Biden allows Ukraine to use US-supplied arms to strike inside Russia near Kharkiv area, say US officials

Biden allows Ukraine to use US-supplied arms to strike inside Russia near Kharkiv area, say US officials
Updated 19 min 12 sec ago
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Biden allows Ukraine to use US-supplied arms to strike inside Russia near Kharkiv area, say US officials

Biden allows Ukraine to use US-supplied arms to strike inside Russia near Kharkiv area, say US officials
  • Biden has come under increasing pressure from a desperate Ukraine to ease his ban, but had so far resisted amid fears it could drag NATO into direct conflict with Moscow
  • Some countries including Britain and the Netherlands say Kyiv has the right to use their weapons to strike military targets in Russia

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden has lifted restrictions on Ukraine using weapons supplied by the United States against targets on Russian territory, but only to defend the under-fire Kharkiv region, US officials said Thursday.
Biden has come under increasing pressure from a desperate Ukraine to ease his ban, but had so far resisted amid fears it could drag NATO into direct conflict with Moscow.
“The president recently directed his team to ensure that Ukraine is able to use US-supplied weapons for counter-fire purposes in the Kharkiv region so Ukraine can hit back against Russian forces that are attacking them or preparing to attack them,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.
“Our policy with respect to prohibiting the use of ATACMS or long range strikes inside of Russia has not changed,” the official said, referring to long-range missiles recently sent by Washington to Kyiv.
A second US official confirmed Biden’s change of policy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pressing Kyiv’s supporters — chiefly the United States — to allow it to use the longer-range weaponry they supply to hit targets on Russian soil.
Some countries including Britain and the Netherlands say Kyiv has the right to use their weapons to strike military targets in Russia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had hinted on Wednesday that Biden could change course.
Blinken said the United States had “adapted and adjusted” as the “battlefield has changed,” as he spoke to reporters on a visit to Moldova on the eve of NATO talks in Prague.
Blinken, who traveled Kyiv earlier this month to see the increasingly grave situation as Russia pushes forward toward Kharkiv, had been widely reported to be pressing Biden to ease the rules.
Ahead of the NATO meeting, which starts with a dinner on Thursday, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said repeatedly it was time for members to reconsider those limits because they hampered Kyiv’s ability to defend itself.
French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to shift the dial forward on Tuesday when he said Ukraine should be allowed to “neutralize” bases in Russia used to launch strikes.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, remained less sure, saying Ukraine should act within the law — and Berlin had not supplied weapons that could hit Russia anyway.
Pressure has also been mounting ahead of a series of key meetings in Europe in coming weeks where Kyiv’s plight will be in focus.
Biden will attend ceremonies in France marking the World War II D-Day landings in early June where Ukraine’s Zelensky will also be present.
The US president will also meet leaders of the world’s top economies at the G7 summit in Italy.
 


Guilty: Trump becomes first former US president convicted of felony crimes

Guilty: Trump becomes first former US president convicted of felony crimes
Updated 7 min 13 sec ago
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Guilty: Trump becomes first former US president convicted of felony crimes

Guilty: Trump becomes first former US president convicted of felony crimes
  • Former president, all but certain to appeal, did not immediately react

NEW YORK: Donald Trump became the first former president to be convicted of felony crimes Thursday as a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying business records in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through hush money payments to a porn actor who said the two had sex.
Jurors convicted Trump on all 34 counts after deliberating for 9.5 hours.
The verdict is a stunning legal reckoning for Trump and exposes him to potential prison time in the city where his manipulations of the tabloid press helped catapult him from a real estate tycoon to reality television star and ultimately president. As he seeks a return to the White House in this year’s election, the judgment presents voters with another test of their willingness to accept Trump’s boundary-breaking behavior.
Trump is expected to quickly appeal the verdict and will face an awkward dynamic as he seeks to return to the campaign trail as a convicted felon. There are no campaign rallies on the calendar for now, though he’s expected to hold fundraisers next week. It will likely take several months for Judge Juan Merchan, who oversaw the case, to decide whether to sentence Trump to prison.

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the press after he was convicted in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 30, 2024. (POOL/AFP)

The falsifying business records charges carry up to four years behind bars, though prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek imprisonment, and it is not clear whether the judge — who earlier in the trial warned of jail time for gag order violations — would impose that punishment even if asked. The conviction, and even imprisonment, will not bar Trump from continuing his pursuit of the White House.
Trump faces three other felony indictments, but the New York case may be the only one to reach a conclusion before the November election, adding to the significance of the outcome. Though the legal and historical implications of the verdict are readily apparent, the political consequences are less so given its potential to reinforce rather than reshape already-hardened opinions about Trump.
For another candidate in another time, a criminal conviction might doom a presidential run, but Trump’s political career has endured through two impeachments, allegations of sexual abuse, investigations into everything from potential ties to Russia to plotting to overturn an election, and personally salacious storylines including the emergence of a recording in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals.
In addition, the general allegations of the case have been known to voters for years and, while tawdry, are widely seen as less grievous than the allegations he faces in three other cases that charge him with subverting American democracy and mishandling national security secrets.
Even so, the verdict is likely to give President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats space to sharpen arguments that Trump is unfit for office, even as it provides fodder for the presumptive Republican nominee to advance his unsupported claims that he is victimized by a criminal justice system he insists is politically motivated against him.

People celebrate after former President Donald Trump was found guilty on all counts at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 30, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)

Trump maintained throughout the trial that he had done nothing wrong and that the case should never have been brought, railing against the proceedings from inside the courthouse — where he was joined by a parade of high-profile Republican allies — and racking up fines for violating a gag order with inflammatory out-of-court comments about witnesses.
The first criminal trial of a former American president always presented a unique test of the court system, not only because of Trump’s prominence but also because of his relentless verbal attacks on the foundation of the case and its participants. But the verdict from the 12-person jury marked a repudiation of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the proceedings or to potentially impress the panel with a show of GOP support.
The trial involved charges that Trump falsified business records to cover up hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who said she had sex with the married Trump in 2006.
The $130,000 payment was made by Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen to buy Daniels’ silence during the final weeks of the 2016 race in what prosecutors allege was an effort to interfere in the election. When Cohen was reimbursed, the payments were recorded as legal expenses, which prosecutors said was an unlawful attempt to mask the true purpose of the transaction. Trump’s lawyers contend they were legitimate payments for legal services.
Trump has denied the sexual encounter, and his lawyers argued during the trial that his celebrity status, particularly during the 2016 campaign, made him a target for extortion. They’ve said hush money deals to bury negative stories about Trump were motivated by personal considerations such as the impact on his family and brand as a businessman, not political ones. They also sought to undermine the credibility of Cohen, the star prosecution witness who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges related to the payments, as driven by personal animus toward Trump as well as fame and money.
The trial featured more than four weeks of occasionally riveting testimony that revisited an already well-documented chapter from Trump’s past, when his 2016 campaign was threatened by the disclosure of an “Access Hollywood” recording that captured him talking about grabbing women sexually without their permission and the prospect of other stories about Trump and sex surfacing that would be harmful to his candidacy.
Trump himself did not testify, but jurors heard his voice through a secret recording of a conversation with Cohen in which he and the lawyer discussed a $150,000 hush money deal involving a Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who has said she had an affair with Trump: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump was heard saying on the recording made by Cohen.
Daniels herself testified, offering at times a graphic recounting of the sexual encounter she says they had in a hotel suite during a Lake Tahoe golf tournament. The former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, testified about how he worked to keep stories harmful to the Trump campaign from becoming public at all, including by having his company buy McDougal’s story.
Jurors also heard from Keith Davidson, the lawyer who negotiated the hush money payments on behalf of Daniels and McDougal.
He detailed the tense negotiations to get both women compensated for their silence but also faced an aggressive round of questioning from a Trump attorney who noted that Davidson had helped broker similar hush money deals in cases involving other prominent figures.
But the most pivotal witness, by far, was Cohen, who spent days on the stand and gave jurors an insider’s view of the hush money scheme and what he said was Trump’s detailed knowledge of it.
“Just take care of it,” he quoted Trump as saying at one point.
He offered jurors the most direct link between Trump and the heart of the charges, recounting a meeting in which they and the then-chief financial officer of Trump Organization described a plan to have Cohen reimbursed in monthly installments for legal services.
And he emotionally described his dramatic break with Trump in 2018, when he decided to cooperate with prosecutors after a decade-long career as the then-president’s personal fixer.
“To keep the loyalty and to do the things that he had asked me to do, I violated my moral compass, and I suffered the penalty, as has my family,” Cohen told the jury.
The outcome provides a degree of vindication for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who had characterized the case as being about election interference rather than hush money and defended it against criticism from legal experts who called it the weakest of the four prosecutions against Trump.
But it took on added importance not only because it proceeded to trial first but also because it could be the only one of the cases to reach a jury before the election.
The other three cases — local and federal charges in Atlanta and Washington that he conspired to undo the 2020 election, as well as a federal indictment in Florida charging him with illegally hoarding top-secret records — are bogged down by delays or appeals.

 


UN Security Council extends South Sudan arms embargo

UN Security Council extends South Sudan arms embargo
Updated 30 May 2024
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UN Security Council extends South Sudan arms embargo

UN Security Council extends South Sudan arms embargo
  • The US-drafted resolution passed with the minimum amount of support necessary, with nine countries in favor and six abstentions
  • The resolution extends an arms embargo on the country by a year to May 31, 2025

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council overcame resistance from several countries on Thursday and extended an arms embargo and sanctions imposed in an effort to stem violence in South Sudan.
The US-drafted resolution passed with the minimum amount of support necessary, with nine countries in favor and six abstentions.
The text decried “the continued intensification of violence, including intercommunal violence, prolonging the political, security, economic and humanitarian crisis in most parts of the country.”
The resolution extends an arms embargo on the country by a year to May 31, 2025.
It also extends an exemption, adopted a year ago, permitting the transfer of non-lethal military aid in support of a 2018 peace deal without necessitating prior notification.
It also affirms the Security Council’s readiness to review the arms embargo measures, including their ultimate suspension or easing, “in the light of progress” on certain key issues.
The embargo “remains necessary to stem the unfettered flow of weapons into a region awash with guns. Too many people, and especially, women and children, have borne the brunt of this ongoing violence,” said deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood.
Juba rejects that position, along with several Security Council members including Russia, which has long demanded the lifting of the embargo.
“It is essential to acknowledge the significant achievements we have made,” said South Sudan’s ambassador to the UN Cecilia Adeng, who called for a “more balanced approach.”
“Lifting the arms embargo will enable us to build robust security institutions necessary for maintaining peace and protecting our citizens.”
The embargo “is no more serving the purposes of which it was established” and “it is having negative effects since it hinders the ability of the transitional government to create the necessary capacity,” said Amar Bendjama, the ambassador of Algeria which abstained on the vote along with the other African members including Sierra Leone and Mozambique, joining Russia, China and Guyana.
UN arms embargos are increasingly opposed by some member states, particularly African countries which are often backed by Russia.
“It is clear that at this stage, many of the Council sanctions regimes including South Sudan’s are outdated and need to be reviewed,” said Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Anna Evstigneeva.
It was unfortunate that Washington views such embargos as a “panacea for all of the country’s problems,” she said.
From 2013 to 2018, the country’s 12 million people were gripped by a bloody civil war between the followers of two rival leaders, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, which claimed 380,000 lives.
Violence persists despite a peace deal signed in 2018 and nearly two million people are internally displaced, according to the UN.