Bombings were the first raids on Sanaa since a Saudi-led alliance said last week it was scaling back a campaign against Houthi militias
A file photo shows a member of Southern Resistance Committees aiming his sniper weapon during clashes with Houthi fighters in Yemen’s southern city of Aden on 24 April. Photo:
Aden: At least five air strikes hit military sites and an area near the presidential palace compound in the Yemeni capital Sanaa at dawn on Sunday while warships pounded an area near the port of the southern city of Aden, residents said.
The bombings were the first raids on Sanaa since a Saudi-led alliance said last week it was scaling back a campaign against Iranian-allied Houthi militias, which control Sanaa and have powerful allies in Yemen’s factionalised armed forces.
“The explosions were so big they shook the house, waking us and our kids up. Life has really become unbearable in this city,” a Sanaa resident who gave his name as Jamal told Reuters.
Eyewitnesses in Aden said foreign warships pounded Houthi armed positions around the city’s main commercial port and dockyard, the first time the port area has been shelled, residents said.
Aden residents reported heavy clashes between local armed militia and Houthi fighters backed up by army units, and sources in the militia said they were retaliating for the first time with tank and Katyusha rocket fire against the Houthi advance.
In the southern province of Dalea, the militiamen said they had fought for hours to retake several rural districts with the help of Saudi-led air strikes, in fighting which left around 25 of the Houthi forces and six of their own men dead.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and arch regional adversary of Iran, is concerned about possible security threats posed by the Houthis’ advance across Yemen since last September.
It launched a month-long campaign of air raids against the group that has halted its battlefield progress but has yet to reverse their dominant position in the country or force them to return to peace talks.
People free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Katmandu, on April 25, 2015.
A powerful earthquake — the country’s worst in 80 years — rocked mountainous Nepal on Saturday, killing more than 1,400 people and leveling buildings and centuries-old temples. Dozens if not hundreds remained trapped under mounds of rubble.
Hospitals in the capital of Katmandu were so crowded that many of the injured were treated outside in the open, according to local media. The magnitude-7.8 quake, which shook a wide swath of northern India, Bangladesh, Tibet and Pakistan, also triggered avalanches in the Himalayas, killing at least 10 people on Mount Everest.
Nepal police said at least 1,457 people were killed. Given the scale of the destruction, the death toll was expected to rise. An emergency Cabinet meeting designated 29 districts as crisis zones, the Home Affairs Ministry said.
Tens of thousands of people, fearful of aftershocks bringing down more buildings, gathered outside during the night.
“My entire neighborhood is still in shock,” said Chiranjibi Gurung in Katmandu. “My children who were inside the houses at the time of the earthquake are scared to go inside now even at this time of the night.”
Around 180 bodies were pulled from the ruins of the nine-story Dharhara Tower in the center of the capital, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reports. It said about 200 were feared trapped in the rubble of the tower in the city’s historic Basantapur Durbar Square.
“We had heard the earthquake stories from our ancestors and how I remember my grandparents telling me about the devastation of the 1934 earthquake and how it uprooted the Dharahara Tower then,” said Sabita Lal of Katmandu. “I saw the same thing happen today to the tower. It was a massive one.”
Another Katmandu resident, Deepen Bista, whose house was damaged, said the big jolt “was longer than we had experienced before, it lasted a little more than a minute.” The downtown area of the capital — with old houses and narrow lanes — was hardest hit, he said.
City hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. Dozens were gathered in the parking lot of Norvic International Hospital, where thin mattresses were spread on the ground for patients rushed outside, some wearing hospital pajamas. A woman with a bandage on her head sat in a set of chairs pulled from the hospital waiting room. Doctors and nurses had hooked up some patients to IV drips in the parking lot, or were giving people oxygen.
The quake struck before noon local time about 50 miles northwest of Katmandu in an area that the U.S. Geological Survey calls one of the most seismically hazardous regions on Earth. It is at the spot where the India plate collides with the Eurasia plate in a process that created the towering Himalayas.
The quake, which was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, Lhasa in Tibet, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, was followed by about 15 aftershocks, including one registered at a magnitude of 6.6. At least 34 were killed in India, 12 in Tibet and two in Bangladesh. Two Chinese citizens died on the Nepal-China border.
Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said on Twitter that the quake had destroyed about 90% of about 1,000 homes and huts in the Laprak and Barpak villages near the epicenter.
The humanitarian aid group Oxfam said it was sending a team of technical experts from Britain to provide clean water, sanitation and emergency food supplies. “Communication is currently very difficult,” said Cecilia Keizer, Oxfam country director in Nepal. “Telephone lines are down, and the electricity has been cut off, making charging mobile phones difficult. The water is also cut off.”
Keizer said the quake had destroyed many of Katmandu’s old houses and that at least one large apartment block had collapsed. “People are gathered in the thousands in open spaces and are scared, as there have been several aftershocks,” she said.
In Winchester, Va., Kriti Hada, a 20-year-old nursing student from Nepal who is attending Shenandoah University, said her sister in Nepal managed to get through by phone.
Although she, her mother and another sister were unhurt, they were frightened by the intensity and duration of the aftershocks, which are continuing, Hada told USA TODAY.
Hada said her relatives, like hundreds of others who survived the initial quake, were remaining outside until the seismic activity ceases. “We have very limited open spaces and they are surrounded by tall buildings that are also fragile,” Hada said.
Iranian Armenians demonstrate outside the Turkish embassy in Tehran to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
By Christina Asquith and Audrey Pence
Istanbul, Turkey (CNN)Sitting on a sunny bench in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, Fadime Gurgen dismisses the controversy surrounding the 100th anniversary Friday of the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire with a wave of her hand.
Gurgen, a 55-year-old cleaner, says her family has had close friendships with Armenians going back generations.
“There is no such thing as genocide,” she says. “Other people are trying to create hostility between us.”
Most Turks agree with Gurgen. Ninety-one percent of Turks do not believe that the events of 1915 — when, according to Armenians, 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were systematically killed in the final years of the Ottoman Empire — were genocide, according to a recent poll.
It’s a sentiment shared by the Turkish government, which denies that a genocide took place, maintaining that hundreds of thousands of Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians died in intercommunal violence around the bloody battlefields of World War I. Turkey also disputes Armenia’s count of the numbers killed, putting it at 300,000.
It’s a heavily disputed position — the killings are widely viewed by scholars as genocide and the Armenian government and diaspora are lobbying for wider recognition in the international community.
Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan said Friday in statement that Turkey’s Ottoman rulers had planned and carried out a “monstrous crime” in the years of World War I and called on more countries to recognize and condemn the genocide.
Many Armenians living in Turkey still feel treated as second-class citizens. However many have hope that Turkey’s younger generation is more willing to accept that a genocide occurred than their parents.
“Students are much, much more liberal,” says Diana Van, whose grandparents escaped the mass killings.
Van is a member of the delegation for the Armenian Genocide commemoration and is writing her Masters thesis on the issue at Ankara University.
“They have access to alternative information written in English, which is not taught in school (in Turkey). With more access to books, to alternative information, and with a larger democratization process, Turkey will be able to face its history.”
A century after her Armenian ancestors escaped death in Eastern Turkey, Van says she is frustrated that Turkey is unwilling to accept what happened. “Your identity is denied by Turkey,” she says. “They do not want to face this past. In Turkey, the word Armenian is still used as a curse. Whenever you want to hurt somebody, you say, ‘you are like an Armenian.'”
Van says an admission of genocide by Turkey would largely be symbolic. While her grandparents lost their land, she has returned to their villages and she recognizes that trying to reclaim it would be impossible.
“I do not believe that this is going to happen,” she says of the territorial claims made by many Armenians. “One hundred years have passed. I went to my ancestors’ land, and I saw those Armenian lands full of Kurdish people, who have five to 16 children per family, and I saw that it’s not Anatolia. It’s not my homeland that I had in my imagination.”
A growing number of scholars and world leaders believe that what happened should be called genocide. Germany looks set to join the European Parliament, France, Austria, Canada and some 20 other countries in labeling the atrocity a “genocide.”
Two weeks ago the Pope referred to mass killings as “the first genocide of the 20th century” — a move that infuriated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called the claim “nonsense” and recalled his ambassador to the Vatican.
Some notable countries do not recognize the killings as genocide, including the UK and Israel and earlier this week U.S. President Barack Obama, wary of damaging relations with Turkey amid growing unrest in the Middle East, did not use the word genocide.
There are several reasons why Turkey maintains its position on the issue. Turks say that to most people there the term “genocide” is associated with Nazis — not the beloved founders of modern Turkey.
Last year, the Turkish government expressed condolences to Armenians, and accepted that hundreds of thousands of their ancestors died as they were marched out of cities and towns in Central and Eastern Anatolia in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire.
But the government called it a “necessary deportation” during the messy and violent period of transition leading up to World War I — when many Armenian radicals were threatening to side with Russia. Turkey says that there was never a deliberate, ethnically-driven effort to exterminate the Armenian population.
“It was a wartime precaution, like the U.S. relocated the Japanese population during World War II,” says Dr. Kamer Kasim, Dean of Abant Izzet Baysal University. Kasim dismisses the drive for the “genocide” label as little more than a propaganda campaign being waged by the Armenian diaspora.
Politics and timing is another issue. At a time when President Erdogan is in full campaign mode ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections, he is attempting to assuage concerns about unemployment and slowed growth by drumming up nationalist fervor with promises of a “New Turkey” akin to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. It’s hardly the time to label the country’s founders as murderers.
That wouldn’t play well with Turks, many of whom have gone through years of schooling that instilled in them a fierce pride in their past.
In the same way that American schools often whitewashed the history of U.S. settlers and their relations with Native Americans, Turkish schools have long taken an airbrush to the “Young Turks.” The movement, which began in 1908, was comprised of the army officers who were in power as the country transitioned from the hands of spoiled sultans to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk — the much-adored leader who came to power in 1923 and is credited with founding the modern Turkish state.
The taboo surrounding the use of the word genocide began to crack about a decade ago when two of Turkey’s best-selling international authors, Orhan Pamuk and Elif Safak, joined other intellectuals in raising the issue of whether the country’s forefathers had committed genocide.
Pamuk and Safak were met with crushing resistance. They were harangued in the court of public opinion, and tried in real-life court on charges of “insulting Turkishness.” Since 2003, Turkish schools have been forbidden from using the term genocide.
Calling the events of 1915 a genocide would undermine the very narratives the Turks hold most dear, says Burcu Gultekin Punsmann, a senior analyst at Ankara Policy Center who has studied Turkish-Armenian relations for a decade. She says the country simply isn’t ready to dismantle the foundation it was built on, or stain the legacy of its founders.
“Turkey is still too young and too insecure to rewrite its history and question the events unfolding at the establishment of the republic,” Punsmann says.
But in a statement issued to mark the anniversary of the killings, President Erdogan urged dialogue, saying “…As descendants of two ancient peoples who a hundred years ago shared the same destiny whether in joy or in sorrow, our common responsibility, and calling, today is to heal century old wounds and re-establish our human ties once again. Turkey will not remain indifferent to this responsibility and will continue to do its utmost for friendship and peace.”
But there are other issues, including fears that an official recognition of genocide could unleash a flood of lawsuits against the Turkish government.
In 2006, descendants of exiled Armenians filed suit in a U.S. court against two German banks for restitution of assets, based on evidence that Ottoman ministries required that seized Armenian assets be turned over to the government and transferred to banks in Germany.
One 97-year-old Armenian woman living in the U.S. claims to have land deeds proving that her parents owned land that now houses an airport.
Her case is winding its way through the Turkish court system, but her lawyer, Ali Elbeyoglu, says the genocide debate has no effect: “We have deeds, so we are following the law and politics don’t matter.”
Others say that the genocide is distracting the country from more pressing issues between Turkey and Armenia, like the closed border between the two hostile neighbors.
Aybars Gorgulu, a foreign policy expert at TESEV, one of Turkey’s leading think tanks, argues that it is Armenia, not Turkey, which suffers most from the tensions surrounding the issue. And he says it isn’t in Armenia’s best interest to push hard for a recognition of genocide that he doesn’t believe will ever come.
“There’s no diplomatic relations between the countries, and that plays into why Turks think there’s a crazy diaspora obsessed with genocide, but that’s not true,” Gorgulu says. “The best thing for Armenia would be to enter into dialogue with Turkey, normalize relations, and open the border.”
Meanwhile, the publicity surrounding the anniversary on Friday has prompted debate amongst Turks of all ages. On Sunday there will be a conference at Bogazici University on the atrocity — one of few in Turkey that openly uses the term genocide.
Nisan Gul Goker, a 21-year-old art management student with bright pink lipstick, is one of the few Turks who believes that her country should change course.
“They keep referring to this as an ‘Armenian incident’ in quotations and can’t call it genocide,” she says, boarding the metro to her classes at Aydin University. “We should be ashamed of this and accept it.”
Former CIA director and retired general David H. Petraeus speaks as the keynote speaker at the University of Southern California annual dinner for veterans and ROTC students, in Los Angeles, California March 26, 2013.
BY COLLEEN JENKINS
Former U.S. military commander and CIA director David Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine on Thursday after pleading guilty to mishandling classified information.
The retired four-star general apologized as he admitted to giving the information to his mistress, who was writing his biography. He agreed under a plea deal to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The judge raised the fine from the $40,000 that had been recommended, noting it needed to be higher to be punitive.
“This increased fine amount is necessary so the combined sentence reflects the seriousness of the offense,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler during the hearing.
Petraeus, 62, who served stints as the top U.S. commander in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned from the CIA in 2012 after it was revealed that he was having an affair with the biographer, Army Reserve officer Paula Broadwell.
Dressed in a dark suit and blue tie, he showed no emotion as he read from a prepared statement in court.
“Today marks the end of a two-and-a-half year ordeal that resulted from mistakes that I made,” he told reporters after the sentencing. “As I did in the past, I apologize to those closest to me and many others.”
Petraeus was accompanied by three attorneys, but it did not appear that his family members attended the hearing, nor did Broadwell, who lives in Charlotte.
Keesler noted that defense attorneys submitted letters from heads of state and high-ranking U.S. military officials calling Petraeus one of the finest military leaders of his generation.
Keesler said he had “committed a grave but very uncharacteristic error in judgment.”
Civil liberties and government transparency advocates had questioned the plea deal, saying the government’s lenient treatment of Petraeus suggested prosecutors maintain double standards. Defendants in other leak cases have received harsher punishments, including prison.
Petraeus’ attorney, David Kendall, said in court it would have been unprecedented to incarcerate the former general for the charge he faced.
“This is not a case about the dissemination to the public of classified information,” Kendall said. “No classified information appeared in the biography. Not a single syllable.”
A court document signed by Petraeus and prosecutors says that in 2011, before he became the CIA director, the four-star general illegally gave Broadwell access to official binders.
Known as “black books,” the binders contained classified information including identities of covert officers, code word information, war strategy, intelligence capabilities, diplomatic talks and information from high-level White House National Security Council meetings, according to court records.
Petraeus also was accused of improperly storing classified materials at his residence and falsely telling the FBI in October 2012 that he had not shared any classified information with Broadwell.
U.S. prosecutor James Melendres noted that Petraeus had been entrusted with the government’s highest secrets.
“The defendant betrayed that trust,” he said in court.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting on the side lines of the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta, in this photo released by Kyodo April 22, 2015.
BY LINDA SIEG AND KANUPRIYA KAPOOR
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit in Indonesia on Wednesday, the latest sign of a thaw between the Asian rivals that came despite an awkward diplomatic backdrop.
Abe told reporters after the meeting that the two leaders agreed to work for better relations and contribute to regional stability by promoting “mutually beneficial strategic ties”.
Noting that Sino-Japanese ties had begun to improve when he met Xi late last year, Abe said: “We want to make the improving trend in the bilateral relations solid.”
The meeting took place despite a speech at the Asian-African summit by Abe in which he warned powerful nations against imposing on the weak, an implicit reference to China. He also made an allusion to Tokyo’s remorse in the past over World War Two without issuing a fresh apology.
Earlier on Wednesday, lawmakers from Abe’s ruling party and the opposition visited a Japanese war shrine in Tokyo that is seen in China as a symbol of Tokyo’s past militarism.
Nevertheless, the two leaders met for about half an hour, signaling the desire of both nations to mend frayed ties and promote a cautious rapprochement.
“The confrontation between China and Japan has eased and China and Japan have restored their diplomatic dialogue,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
“No matter what, China and Japan don’t want to return to the previous state of fever-pitch confrontation,” Shi said.
Tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies have flared in recent years due to feuds over wartime history, as well as territorial rows and regional rivalry.
Abe urged Xi at their meeting to work together to ease tensions in the East China Sea, where they have rival claims to tiny Japanese-controlled islets, Kyodo news agency reported.
Memories of Japan’s past military aggression run deep in China and Beijing has repeatedly urged Japan to face up to history.
In a sign that the past still rankles, Xi was quoted by state-run China National Radio as telling Abe that he “hopes the Japanese side takes seriously the concerns of its Asian neighbors and issues a positive message of facing squarely up to history”.
Abe’s stance on Japan’s wartime past is especially sensitive this year, when he plans to issue a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.
Abe told Xi that he would uphold past apologies including a 1995 landmark statement by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama, Kyodo reported. But Abe has also said he wanted to issue forward-looking remarks in his own words, sparking concern he wants to water down past apologies.
Abe said in his Jakarta speech that Japan had, “with feelings of deep remorse over the past war”, pledged to adhere to principles affirmed at the first Bandung Conference, including refraining from the use of force and settling international disputes by peaceful means.
Abe also said: “We should never allow to go unchecked the use of force by the mightier to twist the weaker around.
“The wisdom of our forefathers in Bandung was that the rule of law should protect the dignity of sovereign nations, be they large or small,” he said. The gathering marks the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference, a meeting of Asian and African leaders opposed to colonialism.
China is locked in territorial rows with several smaller countries in the South China Sea while Japan has a separate feud over islets in the East China Sea.
Abe often warns against the use of force to change the status quo and says the rule of law should prevail – both seen as implicit criticism of China’s assertiveness.
Xi had spoken at the conference earlier but did not make any reference to relations with Japan.
In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry protested against the visit to the Yasukuni shrine by the Japanese lawmakers.
“In this sensitive year, Japanese politicians should adhere to correct historical views and do more to promote reconciliation and mutual trust with Asian neighbors, and not the opposite,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Abe’s speech in Jakarta will be followed by a speech to the U.S. Congress next week and a statement in August marking the anniversary of the end of World War Two.
A Saudi soldier at the border with Yemen, fired a mortar shell toward Houthi rebels on Tuesday.
By RICK GLADSTONE
Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that it was halting a nearly month-old bombing campaign aimed at the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have seized much of neighboring Yemen, in a conflict that has threatened to escalate into a new regional war.
A Saudi government statement said “the objectives of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ have been achieved,” asserting that a Houthi takeover of Yemen had been prevented. But the statement also said Saudi Arabia reserved the right to “counter any military moves by the Houthis or their allies, and deal with any threat against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or its neighbors.”
The Saudi decision to suspend the bombings followed a statement just hours earlier by a top Iranian official who said he had expected a cease-fire to be announced.
A Yemeni man checked a house in Sana after a bombing that killed at least 25 people. Sana has been bombed almost daily for more than three weeks, damaging factories, gas stations and residential neighborhoods.At Least 25 Die as Airstrike Sets Off Huge Blast in YemenAPRIL 20, 2015
The aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, as well as a guided missile cruiser, was sent to join other American ships off the Yemeni coast in an effort to discourage Iran’s support of Houthi rebels.Warning Iran, U.S. Sends Two More Ships to Yemen APRIL 20, 2015
Open Source: Vivid Accounts of War’s Horror Stream From Yemen’s CapitalAPRIL 20, 2015
Houthi fighters guarded a checkpoint near the presidential palace in Sana on Wednesday.Who Are the Houthis of Yemen?JAN. 20, 2015
An explosion in Sana, Yemen, on Monday shattered windows and shook buildings miles away. video Airstrike Hits Yemeni CapitalAPRIL 20, 2015
“We are optimistic that in the coming hours, after many efforts, we will see a halt to military attacks in Yemen,” the official, the deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, told Iranian news agencies. Iran’s Foreign Ministry later welcomed the Saudi announcement, calling it “a step forward.”
Still, it was not immediately clear whether the Saudi and Iranian announcements signaled back-channel negotiations or if the Saudi halt to the bombings would lead to peace talks among the antagonists in the Yemen conflict.
The aerial attacks by a Saudi-led coalition of 10 Arab countries began on March 26, paralyzing Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, and leaving hundreds of people dead and thousands injured and homeless.
The Saudis have come under international pressure because of the bombings, which hit a number of civilian targets, including a camp for displaced Yemenis, in which dozens were killed, and a storehouse of emergency aid administered by Oxfam, the relief agency. Oxfam called that strike “an absolute outrage.”
On Monday, the Saudis struck a target near Sana, the capital, that caused an enormous explosion that left at least 25 people dead, medical officials there said.
A senior American official said “there have been discussions” in the past several days among officials from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi partner in the campaign, about ending the bombing. Asked why, the American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Too much collateral damage.”
Saudi Arabia has said that the coalition was engaged in a justified effort to stop the advance of the Houthi militia, based in northern Yemen, which has routed the Saudi-backed government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now in exile.
The Houthis have developed strong alliances with disaffected members of Yemen’s armed forces and the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The fighting in Yemen, a country that was already dangerously unstable, also provided an opening for Al Qaeda’s branch there to expand its territory.
The conflict further threatened to entangle the United States and Iran, which are in final negotiations over the disputed Iranian nuclear program.
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The United States, which has backed Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict, moved on Monday to deploy a strengthened armada of warships off Yemen’s coast, in what was seen as a warning to the Iranians not to rearm the Houthis.
The official Saudi Press Agency, quoting a Defense Ministry statement, said the airstrikes had “successfully managed to thwart the threat on the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries through destruction of the heavy weapons and ballistic missiles seized by the Houthi militias and troops loyal to (Ali Abdullah Saleh), including bases and camps of the Yemeni army.”
There has been no indication, however, that the Houthis and their allies have retreated from any of the territory they have occupied, including Sana, the capital, and areas further south including parts of Aden, a port that has been ravaged by fighting over the past few weeks.
International aid groups have criticized the Saudis for what they have described as indiscriminate airstrikes and for the enforcement of a rigid embargo that has been starving the Yemenis of food, water, fuel and medicine.
Officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva said on Tuesday that Yemen’s health services have collapsed. They said the cumulative death toll in Yemen since the fighting escalated last month was at least 944, with nearly 3,500 wounded. Many thousands more have been displaced from their homes.
A member of the Italian Coast Guard carried a young migrant rescued from the capsized boat early on Monday in Sicily.
By DAN BILEFSKY
LONDON — Rescuers searched on Monday for survivors after a ship carrying hundreds of migrants sank in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday night, in what could prove to be one of the deadliest such disasters in the waters between Europe and Africa.
Officials estimate that 700 people may have drowned, though that number could rise sharply. Bodies were seen floating in the water, and rescuers said that some remained trapped inside the vessel. Only 24 bodies had been recovered by Sunday evening.
More than 17 vessels were searching for survivors, led by the Italian Coast Guard and including several merchant ships. The ship began to sink on Saturday night about 70 miles off the coast of Libya and around 120 miles from Lampedusa, an Italian island between Malta and Tunisia.
Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that the disaster could turn out to be “the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean.”
“A man, a woman and a child have died,” the official said, adding that 80 other migrants had been rescued. Of the survivors, 23 were taken to a hospital for “preventive checks,” while the remainder were said to be in good health.
The official did not confirm reports by the Greek news media that more migrants were unaccounted for, or that they were from Syria, but said that the search-and-rescue operation was continuing.
The wooden sailing boat was destroyed when it hit the rocks, according to the official. Greek television images showed Coast Guard officers pulling migrants out of the water onto a patrol boat from the wreckage of the vessel. A video showed migrants, including children, huddling on what appeared to be flotsam as rescuers picked them up and took them to safety.
European Union ministers were to meet on Monday in Luxembourg to discuss how to tackle the Continent’s immigration crisis as the full scale of the horror began to emerge.
Europe has been grappling with an influx of thousands of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East fleeing poverty and war, often traveling in rickety boats operated by smugglers. Many of the boats capsize.
Foreign ministers from the European Union’s 28 member states, joined by interior ministers, are expected to discuss how to avert such disasters in the future, including how to deal with a conflict-ridden Libya, which has become a major gateway for smugglers ferrying illegal migrants to Europe.
As Europe tried to come to terms with the extent of the disaster on Monday, Rihards Kozlovskis, the interior minister of Latvia, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said the bloc should consider setting up a permanent search-and-rescue team.
But some critics counter that such a rescue squad could create a moral hazard, encouraging migrants to attempt the perilous journey in the belief that they would be rescued if their boat sank.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, expressed dismay at what he characterized as European apathy when it came to the migration crisis. “How many more people will have to drown until we finally act in Europe?” he asked in a statement. “How many times more do we want to express our dismay, only to then move on to our daily routine?”
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy, speaking on Sunday, blamed human traffickers for the episode, calling them “the slave drivers of the 21st century.”
Lt. Keith Caruana, a spokesman for the Maltese military, said an Italian Coast Guard ship, the Bruno Gregoretti, arrived on Monday morning at the Maltese capital, Valletta, where the bodies of 24 victims were unloaded.
“They disembarked 24 deceased migrants, all males,” Lieutenant Caruana said in a telephone interview. “There were also 28 survivors, who are all males as well. They are in good condition.”
Lieutenant Caruana said the survivors remained on the Italian ship and would set sail for Sicily at noon.
He said it was unclear whether the Maltese authorities would open a criminal investigation against traffickers in the case. Italian prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania have already opened a case after questioning a survivor. Lieutenant Caruana confirmed reports that the survivor had told prosecutors that smugglers had locked many migrants in the hold of the boat.
In 2013, 107,000 people were detected trying to enter the European Union illegally, up from 75,000 in 2012, according to a report from Frontex, the union’s border agency. Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans were found to be the most common nationalities, the report said.
Monday’s crash near Rhodes came a week after the Greek Coast Guard released figures showing that the number of would-be migrants arriving on Greek shores from neighboring Turkey had more than tripled in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the same period last year. Officers intercepted 10,445 migrants from Jan. 1 to March 31, compared with 2,863 in the same period in 2014.
Despite the European Union’s efforts to bolster its resources to deal with the influx of migrants to Europe, the bloc has struggled to create a cohesive policy because of conflicting regulations across Europe, including on asylum.
Far-right parties across Europe have been gaining in strength, in part by exploiting the simmering resentment directed toward migrants in some quarters. It remains to be seen whether the extent of the recent episode will help foster sympathy toward migrants.
CHARLENE RODRIGUES , MOHAMMED AL-QALISI
At the entrance of Bab Al-Yemen, Old Sanaa, a waif-like Hassan, dwarfed by his Kalashnikov, stands at a checkpoint. His dark eyes scan vehicles as they pass through.
Like most seven-year-olds in Sanaa, Hassan used to spend his time at school – or playing table football with his friends. That was until three weeks ago.
“Now my school is closed,” he says, carefully scrutinising the white Toyota Yaris entering the old city. In less than a week, Hassan went from being a pupil in class to manning the capital’s checkpoints on behalf of the Houthi rebels. Their takeover of the city last year eventually led to Yemen’s president fleeing the city and pushed the country towards the current clashes around the nation. “We are fighting to protect our country from the enemies,” Hassan says indignantly.
More than 700 people are believed to have been killed in recent weeks, including dozens of children, who are increasingly caught up in the fighting. Thousands have been injured and more than 150,000 people have been displaced around the country, according to the UN.
Last month, fighting between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi Arabia-backed forces of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi intensified. As a result, Saudi Arabia, with a number of other regional Sunni allies, launched an intensive campaign of airstrikes against the Houthi at the end of the month. That campaign, which has involved targets across the country, continues. There were clashes in the city of Taiz, following airstrikes the night before.
Mr Hadi fled the capital earlier this year to Aden, which has become the scene of some of the most intense fighting as the Houthis push south from their northern strongholds. Meanwhile, independent tribes – some aligned to Mr Hadi, some not – and others seeking separation of the south from the rest of the country have been drawn into the conflict.
In addition, al-Qaeda’s franchise in the country, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), is looking to take advantage of the power vacuum. It has made gains in recent days. There is also clear potential for the involvement of groups that might align themselves with Islamic State (Isis). Some reports say some of these have already done so.
Jamal al-Shami, chairman of the Democracy School, a local NGO based in Sanaa, says responsibility for the increasing involvement of children in the conflict lies not only with the government, but also with the Houthis and southern militias who have been encouraging them to take up weapons. Children can be drawn in by money and a sense of duty to defend their tribal factions.
“Schools are closed and children have easy access to weaponry,” he says. “All parties to the conflict have welcomed them with open arms. It’s a mess.”
Hassan is one of millions of Yemeni children whose access to education ended when the Saudi-led coalition began its military campaign to dislodge the Houthi rebels.
An official from the UN warned earlier this month that around 30 per cent of fighters in the armed groups involved in the conflict are under 18. “We are seeing children in battle, at checkpoints and, unfortunately, among [those] killed and injured,” Julien Harneis, Unicef’s representative in Yemen, told the French news agency AFP.
The precarious security situation makes the exact numbers of young combatants, who are with several warring factions, hard to obtain.
Such combatants on the front line, inspecting vehicles or patrolling the heavily fortified checkpoints in Yemen, are not uncommon. Children have been used for military purposes even before the Houthi rebels took over Sanaa, despite the official age for joining Yemen’s army being 18.
The apparent increase in child soldiers comes despite previous attempts to put an end to the recruitment of minors by the Yemeni Armed Forces and others. Last May, an action plan was signed between the Yemeni government and the UN to formally end and prevent any further recruitment of children. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthis, also previously pledged that he would stop recruiting child soldiers But this has not affected Hassan. “Our leader [referring to the Houthi] has called us to fight the enemy. I carry a weapon to protect myself, my family and my country,” he says proudly.
Hassan, who lives in the Safiya district of Sanaa, has no formal training but he says: “My father teaches me to use the Kalashnikov.”
Another combatant is 11-year-old Asif. Since he was six, he has been visiting Saada, in northern Yemen, to train with the Houthi rebels.
“I will only do what is said in the Koran,” he says. “I don’t enjoy school, I’ve never been to school. I enjoy fighting for my country against Saudi Arabia and Isis.” Despite being trained for the front line, Asif says his work has centred around patrolling the streets and manning the capital’s security checkpoints.
Once the Houthi rebels entered the capital, he started carrying his gun regularly. He denies receiving remuneration, but concedes he gets a meal and a bag of khat, a narcotic plant widely used in the region, in return for his participation.
“My parents are proud of me and encourage me to fight,” he says.
With war waging in different parts of the country, many families encourage their young to fight with the militias, says Mr Shami. “For them, it is also a much-needed source of income.”
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused Shia-majority Iran, which supports the Houthis, of supplying the rebels with training, along with other help. This is something Iran has denied, although the war of words has raised fears about wider implications for the region.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned Saudi Arabia that, through the airstrikes, it has “planted the seeds of hatred in this region, and you will see the response sooner or later”.
Iran said last week that it had submitted a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlining a four-point peace plan for Yemen. Its Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said this calls for an immediate ceasefire and an end to all foreign military attacks. In addition, it wants humanitarian assistance and a resumption of a broad national dialogue, as well as the “establishment of an inclusive national unity government”.
Even before the airstrikes, more than 16 million of Yemen’s population were in need of humanitarian assistance. The intensity of the air campaign – and the huge numbers of displaced people – have meant rising unemployment. In many instances, this has forced young children to shoulder the financial burden of their families.
The UN appealed late last week for $274m (£183m) in humanitarian aid for the country. It was then reported that Saudi Arabia had pledged that much itself.
Mohammed, 13, from the Hajjah province in west Yemen, has not seen his family for more than six months. He has been travelling across the country to fight with the Houthi rebels. Without school, his experience of childhood is of firing guns in battle. “Last year, I went to fight with the Houthis – first in Amran and then in the capital in Sanaa,” he declares proudly. “Like me, there are hundreds of young children fighting with [the Houthis] in Marib [a city to the east of Sanaa].”
From Shahara, next to Hajjah province, Mohammed dismisses the need for school, saying his parents never had an education. The family sustain themselves by working the farm, growing wheat and barley.
Mr Shami warns that there will be bigger battles ahead, if and when the war ends. “Many children have got used to the income, violence and battlefields. It will be hard to convince them to return to a classroom.”
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack near a bank branch in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 18, 2015.
This is the first major ISIS attack in Afghanistan
At least 33 people died in a suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday morning, with the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) claiming responsibility for what, if confirmed, would be the terrorist group’s first major attack in the country.
More than 100 people were wounded in the bombing outside a bank branch in Jalalabad in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.
“Who claimed responsibility for horrific attack in Nangarhar today? The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack, Daesh [as ISIS is also known] claimed responsibility for the attack,” Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said during a visit to northeastern province of Badakhshan. He did not identify the source for the claim.
Separately, a militant group linked to ISIS reportedly released a picture of the alleged suicide bomber who struck the bank branch in Jalalabad as people queued up outside to collected their paychecks. The New York Times identified the branch as same one that was attacked in 2011. Responsibility for that bombing, which killed 38 people, was claimed by the Taliban.
A Taliban spokesman denied responsibly for the suicide attack on Saturday, telling Reuters: “It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it.”
If confirmed as an ISIS attack, Saturday’s suicide bombing would mark a significant expansion of the terrorist group’s activities from its base in the Middle East. The attack comes against the backdrop of a significantly reduced presence of foreign troops in the conflict-ridden nation as international forces exit Afghanistan. In March, President Obama announced a slowdown in the pace of withdrawal of U.S. troops in the country, saying America would maintain a nearly 10,000-strong force in Afghanistan through 2015.
The announcement was made during a visit to the U.S. by President Ghani, who, in a speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, warned of the “terrible threat” posed by ISIS to the “states of western and central Asia.”
“Terrorist movements whose goal is to destabilize every state in the region are looking for new bases of operation,” he said. “We’re the front line. But terrorists neither recognize boundaries [nor] require passports to spread their message of hate and discord. From the west, the Daesh is already sending advanced guards to southwestern Afghanistan.”
The suicide bombing was one of three explosions that shook Jalalabad on Saturday morning, including what was reported to be a controlled detonation after authorities discovered motorcycle rigged with explosives.
African governments have criticized the official response to days of unrest targeting foreigners and foreign-owned businesses in South African, where some blame migrants for high unemployment.
By Paula Rogo
Residents in South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, attacked foreign-owned shops Thursday night in the latest round of anti-immigrant violence, a national problem that has stunned other African nations.
Twelve were arrested for the attacks, the BBC reports, and dozen of foreigners sought refuge at a police station in an eastern Johannesburg suburb. Police fired rubber bullets to disperse machete-carrying crowds, CNN reports.
From Durban to Johannesburg, violent attacks against African immigrants have been spreading across the rainbow nation with at least five people dead. Mostly aimed at Somali, Ethiopian, and Pakistani shop-owners, as well as Zimbabweans, Malawians, and Mozambicans, the violence has forced thousands to abandon their businesses and homes.
South African President Jacob Zuma denounced the attacks Thursday evening in a televised speech to parliament and called for calm. “No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” he said.
This is the second time this year South Africa has seen a surge in xenophobic violence, a pattern stretching back over the past decade. With unemployment at 24 percent, South Africans blame foreigners, especially other African immigrants, for taking their jobs. According to the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, South Africa currently houses more than 300,000 asylum seekers.
This month’s unrest began after Goodwill Zwelethini, king of the Zulu, South Africa’s largest tribe, called for immigrants in March to “take their bags and go where they come from.” And Edward Zuma, the president’s son, said he supported the king’s sentiments.
Attacks soon erupted against foreign-owned shops in Durban, the capital of Kawzulu-Natal. The UNHCR estimates about 5,000 people have fled their homes and are sheltering in mosques, churches and public spaces across the city. The Associated Press reports that about 2,000 people have fled their homes in Johannesburg.
In response to the attacks, thousands of South Africans gathered in Durban for a peace march Thursday. Nearby, hundreds of locals jeered at the participants.
Several African nations, including Malawi and Kenya, have offered to evacuate their own nationals living and working in South Africa. Sasol, Africa’s biggest oil and petrochemicals company, is also evacuating 340 South African employees from its Mozambique operations because of concerns about the possibility of retribution attacks.
Across Africa, governments are condemning South African xenophobia and and its government’s hesitant response to the violence, M&G Africa reports:
“If this was happening here in Zimbabwe, the calls for immediate action would be like a cacophony,” Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said in a phone interview from Harare on Thursday.
South Africa has to act “to save the lives and livelihoods of their fellow African brothers and sisters from Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent. They must act immediately against any form of racism or xenophobia.”
Malawi has hired buses to repatriate its citizens caught up in the violence, Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa said.
“I would have wished the government of South Africa would have done more,” he said by phone from Blantyre, the capital, on Thursday.
“We are concerned, we are disappointed. We want to take our people back home until the situation normalizes.”
China made a formal complaint with South Africa’s government about attacks directed against its nationals, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane plans to meet Friday with diplomats from several African countries to discuss the government’s efforts to protect immigrants, her office said in a statement.