Weekly Global Newscast | March 25 - March 31, 2019


Dhaka Tower Fire Toll Rises

Death toll reaches 25 after a fire that engulfed a twenty-two story high rise in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.


‘The fire ignited just after noon on Thursday and spread quickly throughout the building in the upmarket Banani commercial district. People could be seen screaming for help as hundreds of panicked onlookers crowded the streets below. Some workers slid down a television cable on the side of the building. Others grabbed ropes lowered by emergency service helicopters which pulled them out of the blaze. More than 100 ambulances were parked in the streets around the building amid fears the death toll could steeply rise.’  Michael Safi reported for The Guardian.

‘On Friday, firefighters attempted to trying to break into two elevators in the building to see if there are any victims inside, but by noon Sikder told CNN the search operation had been completed with no further bodies discovered. He said rescue teams were “now going to hand over the building to police and law enforcement agencies for investigation.” Thick clouds of smoke billowed from the building as emergency crews struggled to douse the flames. Dramatic video footage showed firefighters rescuing people using cranes as huge crowds gathered outside. It was not known how many people were trapped inside the tower, Sikder said. The Dhaka Fire Department said 21 fire trucks and more than 100 firefighters were at the scene. Lines of ambulances were waiting to take the rescued to hospitals”. Sugam Pokharel and Helen Regan reported for CNN.

‘Authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of Thursday’s fire. Rezaul Karim, minister of public works and housing, said a murder case will be filed against those responsible for the tragedy.  “Definitely, this is murder. It is not an accident,” he told reporters. “Legal action will be taken against those responsible for violating the building code, no matter how powerful they are.” The Dhaka development authority said it was investigating how the owner, who had permission only to build 18 stories, managed to extend them to 22. Fire disasters have regularly hit Bangladesh’s major cities, killing hundreds of people in recent years. At least 96 people have died in several large fires since last month.  Critics have blamed lax regulations and poor enforcement for the deadly blazes.  “We have long been telling different civic authorities that most of the high-rises in Dhaka are constructed in violation of the existing rules. But before a tragic accident like this happens, no one pays heed to our concern,” Mehedi Ahmed Ansari, director of the Bangladesh Network Office for Urban Safety at the Bangladesh University, told Al Jazeera. The latest inferno erupted barely a month after at least 70 people were killed in Dhaka apartment buildings where chemicals that were being stored illegally exploded – unleashing a blaze that took more than 12 hours to control.’  Faisal Masud reported for Al Jazeera.

Middle East & North Africa

Amid Escalated Tension Palestinians Gather for the First Anniversary of ‘Great March of Return’ Demonstrations

Palestinians protest to mark one year of The Great March of Return calling for their right to return to their homes. The year post March 30th, 2018 has seen thousands of injuries and 250 deaths of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces.


‘Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied at the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday, facing off against Israeli tanks and troops on the first anniversary of the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations. Israeli forces had massed the other side of the fortified frontier, with tensions already high after a rocket attack from Gaza and Israeli air strikes earlier in the week. Four Palestinians were killed on Saturday, Gaza medical officials said. Three were 17-year-olds shot dead by Israeli troops while protesting, they said, adding another person was killed at an overnight protest hour before the main rally. But Saturday’s rally was smaller than expected, despite concerns that the anniversary would see a major escalation. Loudspeakers at border protest camps played Palestinian nationalist songs and Hamas, the armed Islamist movement which controls Gaza, had ordered schools to shut for the day to encourage participation. The protesters are demanding the end to a security blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and want Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948. Israel rejects any such return, saying that would eliminate its Jewish majority. Hundreds of Palestinian men, some from Hamas, were deployed in bright orange vests to deter people from going near the fence. There was also less acrid black smoke swirling around with little sign of tyre-burning, as on previous weekends”. Nida al Mughrabi writes for Reuters.

‘According to Palestinian health officials, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began and thousands more have been injured. In its report, the UN found that 189 Palestinians were killed between March 30 and December 31 last year. Israel’s response to the Great March of Return protests is only the latest in a series of actions in Gaza that have drawn international condemnation. Last month, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) published a damning indictment of Israeli forces’ conduct in suppressing the protests. According to the COI, Israeli soldiers have been deliberately shooting civilians, killing and maiming protesters – including children, as well as journalists and medics. The COI’s findings were welcomed by human rights groups who last year unsuccessfully challenged the army’s rules of engagement and its shooting policy in Israel’s Supreme Court.” Ben White reported for Al Jazeera.

emains and the fight against terrorist groups must continue”. UK Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the “historic milestone” but said her government remained “committed to eradicating [IS’s] poisonous ideology”.’ Associated Press reported for BBC.

Sub Saharan Africa

Army Calls for Stepping Down of Bouteflika After Months of Protests

Algeria’s army chief in his speech has demanded the President of Algeria to step down after months of protest against his candidature for a fifth term in office, later denounced along with the postponement of elections.


‘In a speech broadcast by private television station Ennahar on Tuesday, General Ahmed Gaid Salah called the protesters’ demands “legitimate” and invoked a provision in the constitution stating that if the health of the president does not allow him to carry out his function then the office is to be declared vacant.  “To resolve the crisis [in the country] right now, the implementation of article 102 is necessary and is the only guarantee to maintain a peaceful political situation,” he said.   “These protests have continued up till now in a peaceful and civilized way … and could be exploited by parties with bad intentions inside and outside of Algeria,” the general added. Article 102 stipulates that in the case of the president’s inability to carry out his duties due to a serious or chronic illness, the head of the national assembly should take his place for a period of no more than 45 days. Mass protests kicked off in Africa’s biggest country over upcoming elections. After weeks of demonstrations against his candidacy, it was announced on March 11 that Bouteflika will not seek a fifth term in office and the April 18 elections would be postponed. Bouteflika has refused to relinquish power even though it is widely believed he is incapacitated by illness and has left the reins of the country in the hands of a civilian-military elite.” Nada Altaher and Tara John reported for CNN.

‘President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria is preparing to announce his resignation, a privately-owned Algerian TV network said on Sunday, following weeks of mass protests and the army chief of staff’s call to have the president declared unfit for office. Citing unnamed political sources, the network, Ennahar TV, reported that Mr. Bouteflika might announce his resignation on Tuesday, according to Reuters. Also on Sunday night, Algerian national television announced that Mr. Bouteflika and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui had named a new government, and that it would keep Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah as the army chief of staff and vice defense minister. General Gaïd Salah shocked the nation with his call last week for the Constitutional Council to set in motion a process to end Mr. Bouteflika’s 20-year presidency. Critics accused the army chief of trying to orchestrate a coup, and he suggested Saturday that unnamed figures were plotting against him as a result of his stand against Mr. Bouteflika’s presidency”.’ Associated Press reported for The New York Times.


Ukraine Presidential Election

Frustated from corruption and standoff on the front-line of the West’s standoff with Russia, Ukrainians are on their way to choose their new leader.


‘More than 35 million people are eligible to vote in Ukraine’s presidential election on March 31 – the first electoral test for President Petro Poroshenko since he came to power in 2014 on a wave of pro-Western protests. However, several million of the voters in the Russian-annexed Crimea and the rebel-held parts of east Ukraine are unable or unwilling to cast their ballots. The central election commission has registered a record 44 candidates, although some of them later dropped out, leaving 39 on the ballot. According to opinion polls, three hopefuls stand a chance to become the war-torn country’s sixth president. They are  Poroshenko, a billionaire with a chocolate empire who is also known as the Chocolate King. opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, once a natural-gas magnate who has the nickname Gas Princess, and a comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has no political experience.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.

‘Preliminary results, with 9 percent of data from polling stations processed, had the top three in the same order. Stuart Culverhouse, head of sovereign and fixed-income research at investment bank Exotix, said Zelenskiy had tried to present himself more professionally by meeting business leaders and talking of orthodox economic policies. ‘That said, if the exit polls are confirmed in the official vote count, we would expect Zelenskiy to be put under greater pressure in the run-up to the second round to flesh out his policy agenda,’ he said. Poroshenko has fought to integrate the country with the European Union and NATO, while strengthening the military that is fighting Kremlin-backed separatists in the east of the country. Voting around the nation offered a snapshot of Ukraine’s recent history. Soldiers lined up to vote in makeshift polling stations in the east. Voters formed long lines outside polling stations in neighboring EU member Poland, where between one and two million Ukrainians have moved, many in search of jobs and higher wages. Pushing the use of the Ukrainian language and instrumental in establishing a new independent Orthodox church, confectionary magnate Poroshenko, 53, has cast himself as the man to prevent Ukraine again becoming a Russian vassal state. But reforms crucial to keep foreign aid flowing have been patchy. Conflict in the eastern Donbass region has killed 13,000 people in five years and rumbles on despite Poroshenko’s promise to end it within weeks. Frustration over low living standards in one of Europe’s poorest countries and pervasive corruption has left the door open for Zelenskiy. The majority of voters in separatist-held eastern Ukraine and Crimea were unlikely to take part in the election as they need to undergo a special registration process on Ukraine-controlled territory. But Crimean residents who kept their Ukrainian citizenship after the Russian annexation five years ago crossed the land border to mainland Ukraine, from where buses took them to the nearest polling stations.’ Matthias Williams and Polina Ivanova write for Reuters.


US Democrats Intensify Demand For Robert Mueller’s Full Report

House Democrats heightened their endeavors to get Robert Mueller’s full report, as the gathering looked to recast its analytical technique after the unique guidance did not embroil President Donald Trump in a wrongdoing.


‘Democrats intensified their demands for Robert Mueller‘s full report after learning the special counsel’s findings from his Trump-Russia investigation run to more than 300 pages, while US President Donald Trump boasted of total exoneration, despite the four-page summary by his attorney general stating the special counsel reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the federal investigation. US Attorney General William Barr plans to issue a redacted copy of the report by mid-April, he revealed in a letter to politicians on Friday. ‘Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,’ Barr wrote in the letter to the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate and House Judiciary committees. He said he is willing to appear before both committees to give evidence about Mueller’s report on May 1 and May 2. In response, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said in a statement that an April 2 deadline still stands for Barr to give Congress the full and complete Mueller report, without redactions. Democrats had previously said they may subpoena the report if it’s not forthcoming by their Tuesday deadline. Shaking her fist for emphasis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday Barr’s summary, which cleared Trump of campaign collusion with Russia and criminal obstruction of Mueller’s federal probe, was ‘condescending’ and ‘arrogant’. ‘Mr Attorney General,’ she said, ‘show us the report and we’ll come to our own conclusions.’ She asked what Trump and the Republicans were afraid of and mocked them as ‘scaredy-cats’. Meanwhile, Trump headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday for a campaign rally, where he deemed the probe ‘the greatest hoax in the history of our country’ and warned that those behind it ‘would be held accountable’.’Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.

‘The length of Mueller’s still-confidential report makes clear that there are substantially more details that he and his team have documented in their investigation than Barr disclosed to Congress and the public. The volume of pages was described Thursday by a Justice Department official and another person familiar with the document. The Justice Department official said Barr discussed the length of the report during a phone call Wednesday with Nadler, who would only indicate it was less than 1,000 pages. Both the department official and the other person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the document. Barr would not commit to providing the full report with its underlying evidence, according to a House Democratic aide granted anonymity Thursday to brief reporters. The attorney general has been going through the report amid Democratic concerns that what has been made public so far was tilted in Trump’s favor. It’s unclear whether whatever Barr might release next will be Mueller’s own words or another summary. Nadler offered to join Barr to seek a judge’s approval to unseal grand jury testimony, the aide said. Barr has said he’ll provide Congress with at least a partial version in April and told Nadler he would agree to testify before his committee. Associated Press reports for Voice of America.


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