WORLD NEWS : Roundup


Bangladesh ferry sinks with up to 200 on board: police

DHAKA – An overloaded ferry carrying up to 200 passengers sank Monday on a river in central Bangladesh, police said. “We have heard that the ferry was overloaded with passengers and the river was rough,” local police chief Tofazzal Hossain told AFP, adding that 50 passengers had been rescued so far.



At least 33 dead, dozens injured in SW China quake

BEIJING — At least 33 people were killed and dozens injured when a strong earthquake hit a mountainous region of southwest China’s Yunnan province on Sunday, state media said.

“At least 33 were killed and dozens more injured after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake,” the official news agency Xinhua reported.

The quake in Qiaojia County of Zhaotong prefecture toppled buildings, leaving residents frantically searching for survivors beneath the rubble, images distributed on social media showed.

People’s homes and older structures were particularly affected, Xinhua said. “Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries,” it quoted a local official as saying.

The United States Geological Survey had warned that “overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking.”

USGS reported the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and said it struck 11 km northwest of the town of Wenping at a relatively shallow depth of 10 km at 4:30 p.m. (0830 GMT).

Chinese state media put the magnitude at 6.5, citing the China Earthquake Networks Center.

State television reported that firefighters were rushing to the epicenter. Southwest China lies where the Eurasian and Indian plates meet and is prone to earthquakes.

In 1974, a 6.8-quake in the same area killed more than 1,500 people. In September 2012, 80 people were killed when twin earthquakes struck the mountainous border area of Yunnan and Guizhou. In May 2008, an 8.0-magnitude quake rocked Sichuan, which neighbours Yunnan, killing tens of thousands of people and flattening swathes of the province.


China police detain six in tainted meat scandal

BEIJING — Police in China have detained six executives of a meat supply company at the center of the latest food safety scare to hit the country, state media reported on Sunday.

Shanghai’s chief of police and deputy mayor Bai Shaokang told local radio that the executives of Shanghai Husi Food, a unit of US-based OSI Group LLC, had been taken into custody, Xinhua news agency said.

The firm had supplied meat to foreign fast food chains McDonald’s and KFC-parent Yum Brands Inc, among many others.

The scandal, which also dragged in coffee chain Starbucks Corp, was triggered by a local television report showing staff at Shanghai Husi using long-expired meat. The report also alleged the firm forged production dates.

Food safety has been a huge concern for Chinese consumers after dairy products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine sickened many thousands and led to the deaths of six infants in 2008.

Regulators closed the Shanghai Husi plant on July 20. Police have detained five people, including Shanghai Husi’s head and quality manager. It was not clear from the Xinhua report if Bai was referring to the same executives.

“If any wrongdoing was unearthed, we would deal with it strictly according to law,” Bai was quoted as saying.

Yum Brands Inc is the biggest Western restaurant operator in China with 6,400 restaurants. It warned last week that the scare caused “significant, negative” damage to sales at KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants in the period from July 20 through July 30.

After the scandal broke, Yum quickly cut all ties with OSI, which was not a significant supplier to the chain.

McDonald’s Corp, which has deep ties to OSI and was more dependent on the supplier, ended its relationship with OSI China. As a result, many of its 2,000 restaurants in the country have suffered meat shortages.

McDonald’s Holdings Co Ltd, the Japanese unit of the world’s biggest restaurant chain, withdrew its earnings guidance for the year after the scandal forced it to switch to alternative chicken supplies.



Abdullah spurns US-brokered Afghan election audit: Officials

KABUL — An audit of votes cast in Afghanistan’s presidential election resumed on Sunday without the backing of Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two candidates, officials said, as the fraud-tainted poll descended into further uncertainty.

The country’s first democratic transfer of power has been engulfed in a dispute over alleged fraud, wrecking hopes that the election would be seen as a key achievement of the US-led military and civilian aid effort since 2001.

Instead, the contest between Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, and Ashraf Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, threatens to spark a spiral of instability as NATO troops pull out and violence increases nationwide.

After Abdullah rejected preliminary results that named Ghani as the winner of the June 14 election, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul and persuaded the two candidates to agree to the audit to sift out fraudulent votes.

But the UN-supervised process only triggered another outbreak of disagreements, and Abdullah’s campaign on Sunday refused to rejoin after repeated stoppages.

“The commission waited yesterday and today, but we are half through the day and Dr. Abdullah’s observers are not here,” Noor Mohammad Noor, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) spokesman, told reporters.

“We have decided to continue the audit without any further interruptions.” More than eight million votes were cast on polling day, but Abdullah quickly lodged claims that “industrial-scale” fraud had denied him victory. “Our negotiations with the UN over the audit are ongoing,” his spokesman Mujib Rahman Rahimi told AFP after the audit restarted, without giving any further details.

The new president was to have been inaugurated on Aug. 2, but no new date has been set — to the growing frustration of many Afghans, the UN, NATO and foreign diplomats in Kabul.

A US State Department official said on Saturday that Kerry had spoken to both Abdullah and Ghani to reiterate his support for the deal agreeing on a full audit as well as formation of a unity government after the result. “He stressed the urgency … of accelerating the post-election audit and implementing the political framework agreement,” the official said.

The disputed result has over-shadowed earlier celebrations over the high turnout and lack of major militant attacks in both the April first-round vote and the June run-off.

Daud Sultanzoy, a spokesman for Ghani, accused Abdullah of reneging on agreements over how the audit would be conducted.

“Their demands keep changing, our negotiations have ended and we have accepted what the UN has proposed, but they want the whole process to begin again,” Sultanzoy told Tolo TV news.

“If that is the case, we will also start everything from zero again.” Abdullah believes he was also cheated of power in the 2009 election when he withdrew from the run-off accusing President Hamid Karzai of systematic fraud.

Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is barred from standing for a third term in office, and has stayed publicly neutral in the race to succeed him.

In a grim reflection of unrest across Afghanistan, a UN report last month revealed that civilian casualties from the conflict soared by 24 percent in the first half of 2014.

Any street unrest by the candidates’ supporters would revive memories of the 1992-1996 civil war.

Abdullah draws most of his support from Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups, while Ghani’s support base is mainly among the Pashtun tribes of the south and east.


Chief of Indian bank arrested over bribery allegations

NEW DELHI — Indian police have arrested the chairman of the state-run Syndicate Bank over allegations he took bribes in exchange for loan extensions to private companies, a law enforcement official said on Sunday.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Sudhir Kumar Jain in the southern city of Bangalore along with 11 others, including two directors of Delhi-based private firms, its spokeswoman said.

“We arrested him (Jain) late last night and he will be produced in court later today (Sunday),” the CBI’s Kanchan Prasad said.

The CBI, the country’s top crime-fighting body, said it “laid a trap” and recovered five million rupees ($82,200) allegedly paid to Jain through middlemen by companies to win extensions on their loans.

The companies had been defaulting on loan repayments to the mid-sized bank amounting to tens of millions of rupees, the CBI said, adding that its investigation was ongoing.

A CBI statement said it had found “incriminating documents” related to the case after searching 20 places in four cities and had recovered cash, jewelry and property papers at Jain’s residence.

The statement released late Saturday alleged Jain had given “undue favor to private companies by granting sanction to various financial proposals,” both directly and through middlemen.

Jain’s representatives could not be contacted for comment. In a similar case late last year, the CBI investigated a senior executive of India’s top lender State Bank of India for allegedly taking bribes to sanction loans to a company.

State-run banks have been increasingly hit with bad and restructured loans, as companies drown in debt and India’s economy struggles through its worst slowdown since the 1980s.



Mandela’s ‘starving’ cows rescued by local officials

JOHANNESBURG — A South African provincial government has stepped in to save dozens of starving cattle at the rural home of Nelson Mandela, the late anti-apartheid hero, a Sunday newspaper reported.

The Eastern Cape provincial government last Friday delivered livestock feed for nearly 100 oxen that belong to the family of Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, the Sunday Times reported.

This was after one of the 97 cows had died of starvation, it said. A winter drought in the region has left the conditions at the modest family compound in Mandela’s childhood village of Qunu “extremely difficult,” farm manager Siyakudumisa Gabada, was quoted as saying.

He said the cattle had lost weight and were in a “terrible state.” A regional minister for agrarian affairs, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, visited the farm on Friday and described the state of some of the cattle as “concerning.”

“The available feed and water on this farm is quite critical at the moment,” he was quoted as saying.

Mandela, who grew up helping herd the family’s cattle and sheep, wrote in his will: “It is my wish that the farming operations in Qunu… continue after my death.”

He died aged 95 in December last year. AFP could not reach any of the Mandela family members for comment but the anti-apartheid hero’s oldest grandson Mandla Mandela admitted to the newspaper that the conditions at the farm were not satisfactory. He said the family was trying to resolve the problems.


Heavy floods in Bulgaria leave one dead, trigger evacuations

SOFIA — Rescue teams evacuated over 500 people overnight from the small Bulgarian town of Mizia after torrential rains caused flooding that claimed at least one casualty, an Interior Ministry official said on Sunday.

Rescue teams with boats and helicopters were still evacuating stranded people on Sunday. One man was found dead in his flooded home, said Nikola Nikolov, head of the ministry’s fire safety and civil protection unit. Over 50 houses have collapsed after the Skut River, which runs through the town, burst its banks.

Hundreds of houses remain under water. Another town and several villages in the northwestern area, which is close to the Danube, were also hit by floods.

“It was terrible, terrible. The water kept coming and coming. My home is under water. Luckily I have an aunt who lives in the higher parts of the town. I think we will be at least 30 people in that house tonight,” Valia Mircheva, a farmer from Mizia, told BTV television.

The rains have ceased, and weather forecasters say they do not expect heavy rain in the next few days.

Floods this summer have killed more than 15 people in Balkan countries Bulgaria and Romania.

Three people drowned in southwestern Romania and another was missing after heavy floods last week, which hit over 250 villages and triggered the evacuation of over 2,000 people.

Around 11 Bulgarians died after a flood wave ripped through the Black Sea city of Varna in June.

In late May, Balkan countries Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia were hit by the heaviest rainfall since records began 120 years ago.


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