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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Building Collapse in South Africa

As darkness came to Durban, at least one person is dead and as many as 50 others remain trapped in the rubble of the now collapsed Tongaat mall just 40km north of the South African port city. Twenty-six others have been pulled from the wreckage, many with serious injuries. “It was a mall building still under construction,” said Police spokesperson Mandy Govender. “Most of those still trapped inside the building were construction workers.”

While the cause of the collapse was not immediately obvious, a number of eyewitnesses noted workers had removed scaffolding the day before, and there had been unconfirmed reports of structural problems. Crisis Medical managing director Dean Macpherson warned that a number of details are still unclear. “we are led to believe that there were concerns expressed in recent months about the safety of the building.” Indeed, according to eThekwini deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala, construction should not have even been occurring. “We took them (the contractors) to court a month ago. We thought they had stopped.”

Cleopatra Wreaks Havoc on Sardinia

Cyclone Cleopatra swept through the Mediterranean, with floodwaters, in some places high than 10 feet, killing 18 people on the island of Sardinia. “I’ve never seen something like this,” said Inspector Antioco Bus, “even the elderly people say they can’t remember something like this happening. The last time maybe was in 1951. But not like this.”

Authorities in the Sardinian town of Olbia, which bore the brunt of Cleopatra’s choler, are focused on helping residents return to their homes. Prefect Gianfranco Galaffu said, “as of this morning 4,000-5,000 people were displaced.” Continuing, “now the issue is to make sure that people can return to their homes from hotels or the homes of relatives and friends. Everybody’s helping us – volunteers from the other provinces, people from public institutions, state, and regional centre. Everybody’s here in force.”

The Italian government has pledged to release €20m for relief efforts, with Prime Minister Enrico Letta declaring a state of emergency due to the “national tragedy.”

Haitians March Against Martelly

Critics of Haitian President Michel Martelly took to the streets this week to demonstrate against a litany of grievances, from the cost of living to high levels of corruption. Protests took a turn towards violence when Pro-Martelly marches collided with those in opposition; at least one person was shot. Riot police pursued more than 10,000 Haitians through the streets of Port-au-Prince making liberal use of tear gas and truncheons.

Recent days have seen a number of anti and pro-government protests breakout, perhaps due to the government’s failure to hold legislative and local elections that are now two years overdue. The election was expected to occur in 2013, but it most likely won’t happen until next year. “The international community should take notes,” said Moise Jean-Charles, a senator and vocal critic of the government. “The people are rising for a change. Martelly and Lamothe aren’t doing anything for the country but stealing money.” Earlier this month, opposition protesters were struck down with stones and shot at by unknown assailants; three people were injured by bullets. Martelly has repeatedly rejected calls for his resignation, saying stepping “won’t help Haiti move forward.”

Iranian Embassy Bombed in Beirut

Twin suicide bombings by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades shattered the calm surrounding Iran’s embassy compound in Lebanon this morning. Officials with the Health Ministry said more than 140 were wounded and at least 23 people were killed, including Iranian cultural attache Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari. South Beirut, including the area around the Iranian embassy, is considered a Hezbollah stronghold. It has been hit by several attacks in recent months, but today’s attack is the first such action against an expressly Iranian target.

Lebanese officials said the first suicide attacker was on a motorcycle, while the second was in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group’s religious guide, confirmed on Twitter “The Abdullah Azzam Brigades are behind the attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.” Suggesting the Abdullah Azzam Brigades would carry out further attacks until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria and Islamist detainees in Lebanon are released.”

Indonesia-Australia Relations Sour

Australian diplomatic relations with Indonesia will not be returning to status quo today, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters he will not apologize for tapping Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s phone. Abbott told the Australian parliament, “Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to defend this country”. For his part, Yudhoyono recalled his envoy from Canberra, while suggesting he may expel Australian intelligence workers in Indonesia, and further promising he would give critical scrutiny to any areas of cooperation the two country might currently enjoy. “I also regret the Australian prime minister’s statement that downplays the tapping on Indonesia without a sense of remorse,” Yudhoyono said. “The U.S. and Australia’s action really hurts the strategic partnership with Indonesia.”

Specifically at risk over this diplomatic breach is Abbott’s desire for a free-trade agreement with Indonesia, with whom two-way trade reached A$14.6 billion ($13.7 billion U.S.) last year. The Abbott government, which handily defeated a splintered liberal incumbent two months ago, also sought help in stopping asylum seekers, which often arrive in Australia by boat.

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