Fighting erupts in Congo capital, thousands flee

Updated 04 April 2016

Fighting erupts in Congo capital, thousands flee

BRAZZAVILLE: Fighting erupted in the southern part of Congo’s capital Brazzaville on Monday, with heavy fire in opposition bastions between troops and unidentified assailants sending thousands of residents fleeing.
By late morning, AFP reporters saw streams of people panicked by the gunfire heading north away from districts loyal to the opposition, which is contesting President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s recent re-election.
The reason for the clashes was not immediately clear and no official comment was immediately available.
According to several witnesses, the crackle of automatic gunfire began after 2:00am (0100 GMT) in Makelekele and Mayana districts, and continued without stop until dawn.
Several explosions were heard and two police stations reportedly torched in the restive run-down districts, strongholds of Congo’s opposition.
“Soldiers came and told us to leave before it was too late, now we don’t know where to go,” said a 24-year-old student who gave her name as Mercie.
By 8:15am, the gunfire had become sporadic although witnesses across the Congo river in northern Kinshasa, capital of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, also reported hearing explosions.
In mid-morning hundreds of police and troops, some in armored vehicles, fanned out across the city’s southern areas.
Security forces threw up roadblocks on the main road between the south and the city center, stopping all cars for checks.
“I couldn’t stand the sound of the bullets and the heavy arms, I’m terrified,” a 55-year-old called Jerome said.
The clashes erupted as Congo’s Constitutional Court examines results from the March 20 presidential election won by veteran leader Denis Sassou Nguesso but denounced by five defeated candidates who have alleged “massive fraud.”
Sassou Nguesso, a former paratrooper colonel in office for 32 years, was declared winner with over 60 percent of the vote.
Last week, several southern districts observed a strike called in protest over the results in a country of biting poverty where oil riches only benefit a fraction of the population.
Congo has been on edge since an October constitutional referendum that ended a two-term limit on presidential mandates, allowing the head of state to run again.
Critics accuse the president of rampant corruption and nepotism, blasting the referendum result as a “constitutional coup.”
Former colonial power France on Monday called for “restraint” and urged French citizens to stay at home.
Sassou Nguesso served as president from 1979 to 1992 and returned to power in 1997 following a civil war.
He won two successive terms in 2002 and 2009, but both elections were contested by opposition parties.

India moves into top 10 worst-hit by COVID-19

Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

India moves into top 10 worst-hit by COVID-19

  • Experts claim lockdown measures have failed as death toll passes 4,000 mark

NEW DELHI: India on Monday climbed into the top 10 countries worst-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, with the number of deaths passing the 4,000 mark.

Sunday saw the highest one-day surge in cases with 6,634 new infections reported, taking the current total to 140,215, slightly ahead of Iran.

The deadly COVID-19 outbreak has now claimed the lives of 4,041 people in India.

Monday’s milestone figures coincided with the resumption of domestic flight services which experts claimed was an indication of the failure of the two-month-long nationwide lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.

“The lockdown was meant to contain the cases but even after 60 days cases are rising, which means the lockdown was not properly planned and executed,” said virologist Prof. T. Jacob John, of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Harjit Singh Bhatti, of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, said: “The government understands that it has failed in its lockdown plan. They could not anticipate the problems and the crisis it would engender. As a result, the government has no other option but to resume the economy. For the government now the focus is livelihood not the life.”

However, the Indian government disputed the claims saying the lockdown had helped to tackle the virus.

“If the doubling rate in India before the lockdown was between three to four days, today the doubling rate is more than 13 days. Lockdown and all its guidelines have acted as a potent social vaccine,” said India’s Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

“Lockdown was imposed in India at the right time. Other developed countries wasted many days to take this decision,” he added.

On March 25, India started the first phase of its nationwide lockdown and the country is now into the fourth phase of the shutdown, which ends on May 31. Two months ago, India had only recorded 550 COVID-19 cases.

The western state of Maharashtra is one of the worst-affected in India with close to 60,000 cases and about 2,000 deaths. Mumbai, its financial capital, has registered more than 30,000 cases alone with at least 1,000 fatalities, forcing local authorities to procure 80 percent of private-hospital beds in the metropolis to deal with the crisis.

“The cases in Mumbai are increasing every day and health workers across the city are working overtime to deal with the situation,” Dr. Shariva Randive, of the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), told Arab News.

Pune-based Dr. Avinash Bhonde, of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said: “A central team of doctors said a couple of months ago that Mumbai alone would witness more than 150,000 cases but in the whole of Maharashtra the total number is around 60,000, so it is less than what we expected.”

He added that there had been gaps in handling the lockdown. “Had there been micro planning and some corrective steps taken in the middle of the lockdown we could have been in a better situation.”

The length of the lockdown left millions of daily wage workers in big cities jobless and homeless. With no economic incentives or alternative plans put in place for them by the government, and no transport, many walked back to their villages, sometimes up to 800 km from their place of work.

To deal with the unprecedented situation the government, from the first week of May, started running special trains to carry more than 3 million people to the eastern Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

On May 10, Bihar had recorded 700 cases of COVID-19, but on Sunday the number was more than 2,600. The state has set up an estimated 14,000 quarantine centers to house thousands of people returning from virus hotbeds such as Maharashtra and Delhi.

“Bihar’s coronavirus cases may be lower than other states right now, but the way it is growing it is alarming and the state might face a huge problem,” a health official in the Bihar government told Arab News.