Friday 29 June 2012

Libya's secret disaster history

It is sixteen years since more than 1,250 inmates were gunned down at Abu Salim gaol in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but this is the first time the Libyan people have been able to mark the anniversary.

The prisoners were killed on June 28 and 29, 1996 for protesting to demand better conditions.   Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, Abdullah al-Senussi, who is now under arrest, is accused of ordering the massacre.

While the Gaddafi regime was in power, victims’ families did not dare mark the anniversary, but now the prison has been turned into a museum where visitors can seen pictures of those killed, secret notes written by inmates and other objects from the notorious history of Abu Salim, where some were held for many years.

Although many old scores are being settled by the gun in post-revolutionary Libya, the judiciary has started prosecuting members of the former government.   Mr Senussi, is wanted by the International Criminal Court, but is currently being held by the Mauritanian authorities who have charged him with entering the country illegally.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Bangladesh flood

After some of the heaviest rain Bangladesh has suffered in years, floods and landslides have killed at least 70 people, and left another 200,000 homeless.     Eighteen inches of rain are said to have fallen in the port of Chittagong in just 24 hours.

At least 15 people died there, while another 30 perished in Bandarban to the south-east.  The authorities fear more people may be trapped under mud, and rescue efforts are continuing to find and free them.

In Sylhet in the north-east of the country, house roofs are three feet beneath the water, and local people have had to scramble up onto high ground, or take refuge in boats.   Districts around the capital, Dhaka, have also been inundated.

A monsoon flood in Bangladesh is said to have killed nearly 29,000 in 1974, though some of these may have perished in the famine that followed.    It happened less than four years after the deadliest cyclone in history killed perhaps half a million of its people. 

Sunday 17 June 2012

Another prison fire

Thirteen prisoners have been killed in a fire in a gaol in south-east Turkey’s Sanliurfa province.    Another five have been injured.

According to some reports, prisoners set fire to their bedding in a protest, though this has been denied by the governor.    It took firefighters an hour and a half to put the blaze out.   An MP from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party was among the prison’s inmates, but is not believed to have been hurt.

This year saw what was probably the deadliest prison fire in history at the Comayagua Penitentiary in Honduras, where 360 people were killed in February including inmates’ spouses on conjugal visits.

The cause of the Honduras fire is still unclear, with the authorities talking about an electrical fault while some survivors said an inmate started it.   Critics complained that Comayagua was overcrowded.

Friday 15 June 2012

The long arm of 9/11

More than 10 years after the attack on the World Trade Centre, New Yorkers are still developing illnesses that may be related to the disaster.   In 2004, the original fund for the injured and bereaved was closed after paying out $7 billion.

The collapse of the buildings had  released a toxic cloud of glass fibres, asbestos, lead, pulverised cement and assorted carcinogens, but just days after, the Environmental Protection Agency said the air in lower Manhattan was safe.

As people continued to fall ill, in 2010, the fund was reopened, but it did not cover cancer.    Firemen, police officers and former pupils at a school near the site are among those who have been diagnosed, but it is hard to prove their illnesses are directly related to the disaster.  

In March, an advisory committee suggested cancer should be covered, but it is not clear for how long this would extend.  As with Hiroshima and Chernobyl, for some, it might be years more before tumours appear.     There are also complaints that victims of other American disasters, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and Hurricane Katrina, were not nearly so generously compensated.

Sunday 3 June 2012

The long arm of Chernobyl

It’s a long way from Chernobyl to Wales, but until this weekend there were still restrictions on movement of sheep from more than 300 Welsh farms as a result of fall-out from the nuclear disaster 26 years ago.

After the explosion, radioactive particles became lodged in upland peat, and passed to sheep grazing the land, so they had to be tested before they could be sold.

At first, nearly 10,000 British farms were affected.   Over the years this came down to 327 in Wales and a further eight in England, and now these final restrictions have been removed.

At Chernobyl itself, work has begun on a huge new metal shelter to cover the stricken reactor.   After the disaster on April 26, 1986, a concrete ‘sarcophagus’ was hastily erected, but for years it has been crumbling, allowing radiation to leak out.  According to some estimates, the disaster cost of up to 200,000 lives.

 (See also my blogs of April 4, 2009, March 14, 2011 and April 29, 2012)

Friday 1 June 2012

Two war criminals sentenced

Two convicted war criminals have received long prison sentences.    The former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, has been sent to gaol for 50 years for aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone during the civil war of 1991-2002.

The judge at The Hague acknowledged that Taylor had never set foot in Sierra Leone, but declared he had ‘been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history.’   

The former president backed rebels from the Revolutionary United Front, who killed tens of thousands of people, employing a strategy of murder, rape, and hacking off limbs. Taylor, who is 64, says he will appeal.  

Meanwhile, in Rwanda, Callixte Nzabonimana, a former youth minister, has been found guilty by a court in Tanzania of genocide and other crimes during the 100 days of madness in 1994, which saw 800,000 people murdered.   He was imprisoned for life, but he too says he will appeal.