Monday, 27 June 2011

Woman gaoled for Rwanda genocide

The first woman convicted in connection with the 1994 Rwanda genocide has been sent to gaol for life.     Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, aged 65, was the minister for family and women’s development (!).    Her son, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, and four other people were also convicted.

When Hutus began murdering Tutsis in other parts of the country, the Butare region, by the Burundi border, was for a short time a haven of peace.    Then Nyiramasuhuko, a former social worker, ordered the local governor to get killing.    When he refused, he was sacked and then killed.

The convicted woman brought in militias from the capital, Kigali, and, with the help of her son, organised mass murder and the kidnap and rape of women and girls.   She and her son often manned the roadblocks at which Tutsis were detained.

When the Rwandan Patriotic Front deposed the genocidal government in July 1994, Nyiramasuhuko fled, but was arrested in Kenya in 1997.   Altogether, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in just 100 days.   (See also my blogs of April 9, 2009, Dec 11, 2010, May 9 and 29, 2011 etc)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

World's deadliest terror attack on a single aircraft

On this day…..26 years ago, the deadliest act of terrorism involving a single aircraft happened thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland.     An Air India jumbo jet en route from Montreal to Heathrow was blown up, killing all 329 people on board.

The previous year, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, had been stormed by Indian troops, and the police investigation in Canada centred on Sikh extremists.   One, alleged to be the mastermind, was killed in a gun battle with Indian police in 1992.

It was not until 2000 that the first suspects were charged.    Inderjit Singh Reyat was sentenced to five years in prison, but two others were acquitted.    There were claims that some witnesses were intimidated, and that another was murdered before he could give evidence.

An official investigation published in 2010 was highly critical of the government, the police and the intelligence services, while in January of this year, Reyat was gaoled for nine years for perjuring himself to protect the two men who were acquitted.     For more, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Chinese floods

Floods in China’s Zhejiang and Hubei provinces, following torrential rain, have caused the deaths of at least 170 people.  The flooding is said to be the worst in the area since 1955, and more than 5 million people have been caught up in the disaster.

The rising waters have also triggered landslides, and the government has mobilised troops to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

China has experienced many deadly floods in its history.   The Yellow River, known as ‘China’s sorrow’ is said to have flooded 1,500 times.   In September, 1887 after a period of very heavy rain, it burst the dykes that local people had built along its banks, and inundated an area of up to 50,000 square miles.

The flood was followed by famine and disease, and the number of people who perished may have been as high as 2.5 million, making this probably the deadliest flood the world has ever seen.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

AIDS - 30 years on

It was 30 years ago this month that the world was first alerted to the threat of AIDS as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports that five homosexual men from Los Angeles had a rare form of fungus-borne pneumonia known as PCP. 

Three decades on, there are some grounds for cautious optimism.    The peak year for deaths from AIDS so far was 2005, when 2.1 million people died.   The latest figure is down to around 1.8 million.  

The rate of new infections in 30 of the world’s poorest countries has fallen by a quarter or more from its peak, while more than 6 million people are now getting anti-retroviral drugs in less prosperous countries against just 2 million five years ago.   A new study has shown that these drugs appear to be very effective in preventing the disease spreading.

It is not all good news, though.   For every person put on effective medication, there are two newly infected, and as the world’s economy slows down, so has the amount of money being devoted to fighting the disease.

* This is the cover of my new book – Britain’s Worst Military Disasters from the Roman Conquest to the Fall of Singapore.   Out soon.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The massacred village

On this day…….67 years ago, the SS murdered 642 men, women and children at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane.    The victims ranged in age from one week to 90 years.    Most were inhabitants, but a few just happened to be seized as they were cycling through the village.

Soldiers from the 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment were on their way to confront the allies who had landed in Normandy four days earlier, when they were approached by members of the Milice, the French secret police who worked with the Gestapo, to say the Resistance were holding an SS officer hostage in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres, about 15 miles from Oradour-sur-Glane.   

It seems the SS got the wrong village.    At Oradour-sur-Glane, they herded the men into barns, shot them, then burned down the barns.    Then they locked the women and children in the church, set it on fire, and shot down any who managed to get out.    Just one woman survived.    Finally the village was destroyed.

Today its ruins are still preserved as a monument.

*Something more cheerful.   My friend Johnny Bull’s wonderful picture of the Queen Mary, The Return of the Native, has been selling like hot cakes at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition in London.     Get along to see it while stocks last!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

US - worst tornado season in 75 years

More than 520 people have been killed in tornadoes in the United States so far this year, making it the deadliest since 1936.

Between April 25 and 28, what has now been dubbed the 2011 Super Outbreak caused the deaths of 317 people in Alabama and seven other states.     Then on May 22, Joplin, Missouri was devastated with 138 people being killed.   

According to some estimates, up to 75% of the city of 50,000 was damaged, with around 2,000 buildings destroyed.   One relief worker described the devastation as ‘unimaginable’, and when President Obama visited Joplin, he said it was the worst destruction he had ever seen, calling the scene ‘heartbreaking’, but he promised government help to rebuild the city.

Scientists put the strength of the tornado at the top of the scale used to measure them.    (See also my blogs of April 18 and May 24.)