Monday 25 March 2013

Brazil night club fire - 16 charged

Sixteen people will face criminal charges in connection with January’s fire at the Kiss night club in Brazil – one of the deadliest night club blazes in history in which more than 240 people were killed and 600 injured.

Police said the fire started when the singer in a band held a firework close to the ceiling, and insulating foam caught fire, spreading poisonous fumes through the club in the southern town of Santa Maria.

A fire extinguisher failed to work, and investigators said there was only one exit, a situation described as a "grotesque safety failure".   Escape routes and lighting were found to be inadequate, and the club was also said to have been overcrowded.

The singer, the band's producer, the club's owners, and fire officials will be charged with negligent homicide. (See also my blog of Jan 28.)

* Another intriguing story in the Londonist’s ‘forgotten disasters’ series – the Fatal Vespers.  Or see my book – London’s Disasters: from Boudicca to the Banking Crisis P113.

Friday 22 March 2013

Landslide in Brazil's ancient capital

In Brazil, at least 27 people have been killed by landslides in Petropolis about 40 miles to the north of Rio de Janeiro.  The city was named after Emperor Pedro II, who ruled Brazil from 1831 to 1889, and was once the country’s capital.

The landslides hit Petropolis when a river burst its banks after some areas got more than a month’s normal rainfall in just 24 hours.  Brazil’s president suggested that some people had ignored warnings to get out of threatened areas.  

The same region was hit by a series of deadly floods and mudslides precipitated by heavy rain in 2011, when more than 900 people were killed in Petropolis and four other cities.     It is reported that promises by the authorities to invest in better prevention measures had not been kept.

*Landslides and mudslides are among the things that will be featured in my new book – Flood. Nature and Culture.   Here is the first internet whisper about it. (I didn’t write the blurb about the Old Testament.)

Thursday 21 March 2013

The movie star and the terrorists

Bollywood tough guy actor Sanjay Dutt has been ordered to return to prison for his connection with the explosions in Mumbai in 1993 that killed 257 people.    He has been on bail since 2007, after spending 20 months in gaol, while he appealed against his 6 year sentence for buying weapons from the bombers.

The Indian  Supreme Court has reduced his sentence to 5 years, and ordered to him to return to prison in four weeks to complete the remaining 3 and a half years of his term.   Dutt, the son of a Hindu father and a Muslim mother, had said he needed the weapons to protect his family during inter-communal riots.

The judge who passed the original sentence on the star, had told him: ‘Don’t get perturbed. You have many years to go and work, like the Mackenna’s Gold actor, Gregory Peck.’

On March 12, 1993, 12 bombs went off in Mumbai.   The attack was alleged to have been carried out by the city’s Muslim-dominated underworld in retaliation for riots in which most of the victims were Muslims.   Two key suspects are still at large.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Cambodia - Justice delayed..................

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’, goes the old saying.   Its truth was dramatically illustrated this week when Ieng Sary, so-called Brother Number 3, died during his trial for his part in the Khmer Rouge’s campaign of mass murder in Cambodia in the 1970’s.

Ieng Sary, who had been the Khmer Rouge’s foreign minister, was aged 87 and in poor health.  He had denied the charges against him.     During the regime’s reign of terror, up to 1.75 million people, a quarter of Cambodia’s population, were exterminated.

So far, only one person has been convicted for his role in these events. Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison.   Proceedings against Ieng Sary’s wife, Ieng Thirith, were suspended when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Now following Ieng Sary’s death, there are only two remaining defendants, both of whom are frail and suffering from high blood pressure.  

Like Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, they have been in custody since 2007.  With Cambodians seeing the opportunity of calling to account those accused of participation in one of the worst crimes in history slipping away, the country’s Centre for Human Rights has urged the authorities to proceed as quickly as possible.

 (See also my blogs of 16 Sept, 2010 and 1 Feb, 2011.)

Monday 11 March 2013

Japan tsunami two years on

Ceremonies have been held to mark the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the north-east of Honshu, Japan’s main island, two years ago, in which more than 18,000 people were left dead or missing.

Emperor Akihito praised the stoicism of survivors, saying how little they complained, but more and more people are expressing frustration at the slow pace of reconstruction, as tens of thousands have not been able to return to their homes.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made regular visits to the regions affected, pledged to try to speed things up , but a fierce debate continues over the future of nuclear power in Japan.

After the quake damaged the Fukushima nuclear power station, Japan’s 50 reactors were shut down, and only two have been re-opened.  Mr Abe would like to get them running again, but on Sunday, thousands of people marched in Tokyo demanding an end to nuclear power.

(See also my blogs of 14 and 22 March, 1 April, 2011, and 5 Feb, 2012.)

Monday 4 March 2013

'War on drugs' - holes and digging

Last week it was revealed that, in addition to the 60,000 people known to have been killed in Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’, another 25,000 are missing.   Now the Economist has produced some startling statistics concerning drugs globally.

Since 1998, when the United Nations held an event entitled ‘A drug-free world – we can do it’, consumption of cannabis and cocaine has risen by about 50%, while used of opiates has more than trebled.   The illegal drugs industry now has an income of about $300 billion a year.   That is equivalent to about one eighth of Britain’s gross domestic product – everything the country makes.

The UN reckons that 230 million people worldwide use illegal drugs.   Back in 1919, a well-meaning American government banned alcohol, and created a huge criminal industry.   For the last half-century, well-meaning governments across the world have done the same thing for the drugs business.

A famous British politician, Denis Healey, once said – ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging’.  It was good advice.