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82 killed in Baghdad COVID-19 hospital fire: Interior ministry

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(Last Updated On: April 25, 2021)

A fire sparked by an oxygen tank explosion killed at least 82 people and injured 110 at a hospital in Baghdad that had been equipped to house COVID-19 patients, an Interior Ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

“We urgently need to review safety measures at all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in future,” spokesman Khalid al-Muhanna told state television, announcing the toll.

The fire erupted on Saturday at the Ibn Khatib hospital in the Diyala Bridge area.

Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights, had said earlier a final death toll had not yet been officially announced but it could be between 30 to 45.

Patients’ relatives scrambled during the blaze to save their loved ones.

A man who had been visiting his brother described people jumping out of windows to escape.

“The fire spread, like fuel … I took my brother out to the street, next to the checkpoint. Then I came (back) and went up from there. To the last floor, that did not burn. I found a girl suffocating, about 19 years old, she was suffocating, she was about to die,” said Ahmed Zaki.

“I took her on my shoulders and I ran down. People were jumping… Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping. And I kept going up from there, got people and come down again,” Zaki said.

Patients were moved to other hospitals, medical sources said. But several families were still at the hospital hours after the fire had been extinguished, after failing to find them elsewhere.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation.

“Such an incident is evidence of negligence and therefore I directed that an investigation be launched immediately and for the hospital’s manager and the heads of security and maintenance to be detained along with all those concerned until we identify those negligent and hold them accountable,” he said in a statement.

Iraq’s healthcare system, ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been stretched during the coronavirus crisis. The country has recorded a total of 102,5288 infections, including 15,217 deaths, the health ministry said on Saturday.

Security has improved in recent years but Iraq still suffers from political violence, including militia rocket attacks on foreign forces and a low-level Islamic State insurgency.

Accidents due to neglect and wrecked infrastructure have compounded the woes of ordinary Iraqis.

In 2019, at least 90 people died when an overloaded ferry carrying families on an outing sank in the Tigris river in the northern city of Mosul.

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U.N. chief calls on Burkina Faso coup leaders to lay down arms

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2022)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms” in Burkina Faso and calls on the coup leaders to lay down their weapons, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

Guterres also calls on the coup leaders “to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the president and of the institutions of Burkina Faso,” Dujarric said.

“Secretary-General is following developments in Burkina Faso with deep concern. He is particularly worried about the whereabouts and safety of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, as well as the worsening security situation, following the coup carried out on January 23 by sections of the armed forces. The Secretary-General strongly condemns any attempt to take over a government by the force of arms. He calls on the coup leaders to lay down their arms and to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the President and of the institutions of Burkina Faso. The Secretary-General calls on all actors to exercise restraint and opt for dialogue. The United Nations reiterates its full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order and reaffirms its support to the people of Burkina Faso in their efforts to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” said the spokesperson.

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also condemned the “coup attempt” in Burkina Faso, according to the statements they published respectively on Monday.

Burkina Faso‘s army announced Monday on state television that it had seized the state power, ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, suspended the Constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly, closed the borders, and imposed country-wide curfew from 21:00 on Monday.

The announcement, signed by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said that Kabore and others detained were in secure locations and no bloodshed or violence occurred during the takeover.

 

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EU ready for ‘never-seen-before’ sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 24, 2022)

The European Union is ready to impose “never-seen-before” economic sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Denmark said on Monday, and EU foreign ministers said they would send a unified warning to Moscow, Reuters reported.

East-West tensions have risen since Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s border, with Western countries fearing Moscow is preparing an invasion. Russia denies such plans.

Divergent interests in the 27-nation EU could hinder efforts to agree a joint position, and the EU is sidelined by direct Russia-U.S. talks, but ministers said it was essential to find unity.

“Knowing Russia’s tactics, I’m sure one of their aims is to splinter the West,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said as ministers gathered for regular talks in Brussels. “This is a victory we cannot afford to give to the Russians.”

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters: “There’s no doubt we are ready to react with comprehensive, never-seen-before sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again.”

He declined to say what sectors would be targeted.

“Russia should know, (President Vladimir) Putin should know that the price of using provocations and military forces to change borders in Europe will be very, very high… We are ready to undertake the most severe sanctions, also more severe than in 2014,” he said.

According to Reuters the EU, along with the United States, imposed economic sanctions on Moscow targeting its energy, banking and defence sectors after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

U.S. Senate Democrats have unveiled a bill to potentially punish Russian officials, military leaders and banking institutions. The EU says it is working with Washington on a sanctions package but has given no details.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged Europe and the United States to think carefully when considering sanctions, read the report.

Asked whether cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global messaging system should be an option, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Brussels the “hardest stick” may not always be the best way to deal with such a situation.

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Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said everything was on the table but also pointed to Austria’s dependency on Russia for 40% of its gas.

Asked about potential sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is yet to win regulatory approval, he said sanctioning something that is not yet operative was not a credible threat.

Blinken is expected to join the EU meeting online at around 1400 GMT.

The top U.S. and Russian diplomats made no major breakthrough at talks on Ukraine on Friday but agreed to keep talking.

“We are here to do everything we can so that war does not break out,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

For now, the EU does not plan to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after Washington announced such a move, Reuters reported.

The British Embassy in Ukraine said some of its staff and dependants were being withdrawn from Kyiv.

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First part of $200 million U.S. defence aid arrives in Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2022)

The first shipment of the United States’ $200 million security support package for Ukraine arrived in Kyiv, the U.S. Embassy said on Saturday, Reuters reported.

The delivery followed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv this week amid concerns from Kyiv and its Western allies over tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine. Russia denies planning a new military offensive.

Washington approved the $200 million package in December, Reuters reported.

“The United States will continue providing such assistance to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces in their ongoing effort to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression,” it said on Facebook.

Ukraine’s defence minister thanked the United States for the aid.

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