Wednesday 31 August 2011

Baghdad bridge disaster anniversary

In the week when it was revealed that back in 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair secretly promised President Bush that Britain would join in the bombing and invasion of Iraq in defiance of the United Nations, a sombre reminder of the chaos the deadly duo left behind.

On this day, six years ago, a million Shi’ite pilgrims had thronged to a holy site in Baghdad.  The atmosphere was tense after a number of attacks by Sunni extremists.   When rumours of a suicide bomber began to spread through the crowd, people fled to the Al-Aaimmah Bridge to try to escape.

Soon there was a dreadful crush, with pilgrims being suffocated and trampled to death.   Railings gave way, and many people fell into the River Tigris below, while others jumped to escape the crush.   One Sunni  drowned from exhaustion after rescuing a number of people from the waters, but altogether up to 1,000 people died.

A Sunni group with links to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for one of the earlier attacks that had helped cause the panic, but the government claimed the stampede had simply been a dreadful accident.

The letter that reveals Blair’s secret promise to Bush:-

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Uganda landslides

Heavy rain has brought disaster to another part of Africa.   At least 24 people have been killed by landslides in the Bulambuli district of eastern Uganda.    One village has been completely submerged in mud, and a chief, his wife and their eight children are reported to have died. 

Red Cross workers and local people have been digging in the mud to try to find survivors, and hundreds of people have had to leave their homes.   The sudden downpours follow months of below-average rain.

Last year, officials said they would be moving up to half a million people from the area after landslides killed at least 300 people, but in the end only a few thousand were relocated because of local opposition to the plan.

Many trees have been cut down because of rapid population growth, and this is said to have made floods and mudslides more common, while the government also blames climate change.    (See also my blogs of November 12, 2009 and March 3, 2010.)

Monday 29 August 2011

Floods in Africa

Unusually heavy rains in Nigeria have resulted in at least 20 deaths around the city of Ibadan, 90 miles north of Lagos.   A dam overflowed, and the fact that drains were clogged with rubbish made the inundation even worse.    

Camps have been set up to accommodate the thousands of people who have been driven from their homes.  Buildings have been flooded, food destroyed, and farmland swamped.

Last year, more than 100,000 people were made homeless by floods in the country, while across western and central Africa as a whole, more than 300 people were killed.    The Niger river reached its highest level in 80 years, and there were severe food shortages in the aftermath of the flood, which affected half a dozen countries.

The African floods of 2007 were even more widespread, affecting 14 countries, disrupting the lives of 2.5 million people, and killing 250.  (See also my blog of March 19, 2009)

Wednesday 10 August 2011

London's worst ever riot

The riots of the last few nights have been frightening enough, but fortunately they have, so far, been nothing like the worst ever to have disfigured London.   It came in June 1780 as people got angry over a very minor dilution of the laws discriminating against Roman Catholics.

The ringleader was a young MP on the make, named Lord George Gordon, and what became known as the Gordon riots began with an invasion of Parliament, then soon developed into an attack on anyone or anything connected with Catholicism, like the Bavarian and Sardinian embassies, priests’ houses, homes owned by Catholics, a chapel.

Then the target list broadened to take in the homes of magistrates who had imprisoned rioters, and French Protestant refugees.  Well, they were foreign weren’t they?  How was a fellow supposed to tell the difference between a Protestant Frenchman and a Catholic?   The rioters destroyed  four prisons, and released the inmates, plus a distillery where they released the gin.

The authorities faced heavy criticism over what was seen as their initial rather relaxed attitude to the disorder, and after five days the army was turned out, while even the great radical, John Wilkes, took up arms against the mob.    By the time order was restored, nearly 300 had been killed.    For the full story, see London’s Disasters; from Boudicca to the Banking Crisis.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Yugoslav war crimes - job done?

161 down, none to go.   The calling to account of suspected war criminals after the tragedy of Yugoslavia has been perhaps the most successful operation of its kind in history.

Last month’s arrest of Goran Hadžíc, the leader of Croatia’s Serb minority during the conflict, meant that not one of the 161 people wanted for trial was still at large.    Hadzic, a former warehouse worker, is alleged to have played a leading role in the destruction of the town of Vukovar in 1991, during which at least 264 people were tortured and killed.

He has already appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia which was set up back in 1993, joining Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.   Ten of the people indicted by the court died before they could be brought to justice, while Slobodan Milosevic died during his trial.

A crucial factor in the successful pursuit of the suspected war criminals has been the wish of the nations of the former Yugoslavia to join the EU, which has enabled international pressure to be brought to bear on their governments, even though many local people deny that any war crimes were committed.

Monday 1 August 2011

World's deadliest supermarket fire

On this day…..7 years ago, the world’s deadliest ever supermarket fire killed around 400 people at Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.    The food court at the Ycua Bolanos store was packed with families when there was an enormous gas explosion.

The blaze spread through the building at such speed it was said that firemen found cashiers sitting dead at their tills.   Some shoppers were burned alive in the underground car park, while other victims were found hugging each other in the store.

Allegations surfaced that fire exits had been locked, and in December 2006, the owner of the store, his son and a security guard were each gaoled for five years, but the verdicts were followed by a riot, as families of the victims complained furiously at what they considered the undue leniency of the sentences.

At a re-trial just over a year later, the owner’s sentence was increased to 12 years, his son got 10 years, while the security guard’s five year sentence was confirmed.    In addition, a shareholder who had been present when the fire started was gaoled for two and a half years, while the building’s architect spent two years under house arrest.