Nepal

Everest Climbing Season in Doubt as Sherpas Issue Ultimatum to Authorities

NEPAL-EVEREST-AVALANCHE-MOUNTAINEERING
Family members of the Everest avalanche victims light oil lamps at Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 20, 2014. Nepal has called off the search for three local guides still missing, citing weather conditions Prakash Mathema—AFP/Getty Images

Following a meeting on Sunday at Mount Everest’s base camp, the local Sherpa community issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Nepalese government and threatened to boycott the upcoming spring climbing season if their demands are not met

Nepal’s Sherpa community is calling on the government to provide more compensation to the families of the dead and injured after an avalanche last Friday on the slopes of Mount Everest killed at least 13 guides and support staff. Three climbers are still classified as missing.

On Sunday, a meeting was held at Mount Everest’s base camp, during which local guides, climbers and support staff hammered out a list of 12 demands to be met by the government within a week.

“The emergency joint meeting of guides and support staff, expedition leaders and climbers held at the base camp on April 20 issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government to address their demands and threaten to stop climbing if the demands are not met,” read a statement by the Nepal Mountaineering Association published on Monday.

Among the demands sent to Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the group called on the state to provide 10 million Nepalese rupee ($103,600) each to families of the deceased and critically injured, along with initiatives to increase the overall support infrastructure for local guides working in the Himalayas.

Sunday’s call to action comes as the Nepalese government mulls calling off the 2014 climbing season on the world’s highest peak. According to the Himalayan Times, a total of 334 mountaineers have been issued permits to attempt to climb Everest this season. If the trips are canceled the Nepalese government is required to reimburse the permits, which cost approximately $10,000 each.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” the Tourism Ministry spokesman Madhu Sudan Burlakoti told journalists, according to the Guardian. “We do not know what to do if they want their tax back. We will hold further discussions before deciding anything on this issue.”

Nepal’s Sherpas are lauded for their ability to withstand high altitudes and are widely regarded as some of the world’s hardiest mountaineers. Members of the ethnic group are the backbone of the Himalayan adventure-tourism industry, where they work as guides, porters and climbers.

However, Sherpas often toil under incredible mental and physical duress in order to maintain lucrative guide positions on Himalaya tour routes frequented by wealthy foreign adventurers.

Since Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary first conquered the world’s highest peak, more than 4,000 climbers have reached the Everest summit. Approximately 200 have died trying to reach the top.

The search mission for the three missing climbers was called off at the weekend because of poor weather conditions.

Terrorism

Air Strikes Kill Dozens of al-Qaeda Members in Yemen

People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on April 19, 2014. Reuters

A series of coordinated U.S.-Yemeni strikes were launched against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula over the weekend, killing around 40 militants but also at least three civilians in the country’s southern and central regions

Air strikes killed around 30 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen on Sunday, after around 10 militants were taken out the previous day.

According to the nation’s High Security Committee, the operation focused on “terrorist elements [who] were planning to target vital civilian and military installations.” An unnamed high-level Yemeni official told CNN that the “massive and unprecedented” strike involved commandos who are now “going after high-level AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets.” He said the operation was launched in collaboration with the U.S., though wouldn’t confirm the use of drones in the attack. The U.S. is known to have conducted drone strikes in Yemen.

Predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, according to the official, while Yemen’s state news agency SABA said three strikes hit an al-Qaeda training camp around 450 km south of the capital Sana‘a.

AQAP is one of the terrorist group’s most lethal wings.

Debt

Russia Agrees Deal to Slash North Korean Debt by 90%

North Korean soldiers march near trains after a ceremony to mark the re-opening of a railway link between Russia and North Korea at the port of Rajin Sept. 22, 2013 Yuri Maltsev—Reuters

Russia has finalized an agreement that will write off almost $10 billion owed by North Korea since the Cold-war era, with plans to build a gas pipeline and railway to South Korea through the communist state

Russia’s parliament has agreed to reduce North Korea’s debt from $10.96 billion to just $1.09 billion to be paid off over the next 20 years.

According to Reuters, Russia’s deputy finance minister Sergei Storchak told media that the remaining debt, to be paid off in six-monthly installments, could be used to fund mutually beneficial projects in North Korea, including a gas pipeline and railway through the Hermit Kingdom to South Korea.

The relationship between the two Koreas remains tense and they are separated by one of the world’s most militarized frontiers. North Korea’s struggling economy is just 2% of the size of its southern neighbor.

North Korea is the latest in a line of impoverished Soviet-era allies to have its debts written off, after Cuba in December last year. Russia’s state-owned leading natural gas producer, Gazprom, has been angling to build a gas pipeline via North Korea for many years.

Russia also aims to reach a deal next month to supply gas to China following a decade of talks, demonstrating Moscow’s efforts to diversify its energy sales to Asia and away from Europe.

[Reuters]

tragedy

South Korean President: Ferry Crew Actions ‘Murderous’

South Korean coastguard officers transfer a covered body onto another coastguard vessel as they recover bodies at a site where the capsized passenger ship Sewol sank in the sea off Jindo April 20, 2014 Issei Kato—Reuters

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has accused the captain and some crew members of the sunken Sewol ferry of “unforgivable, murderous acts.” More than 300 people are dead or missing as divers strive to enter the prone hull

(JINDO, South Korea) — The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry Sewol sank Wednesday. By then the ship had tilted so much that many of the roughly 240 people missing are believed to be trapped inside.

At a Cabinet briefing, Park said the captain and crew “told the passengers to stay put but they themselves became the first to escape, after deserting the passengers.”

“Legally and ethically,” she said, “this is an unimaginable act.”

The captain and two crew members have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, and prosecutors said Monday that another four crew members have been detained. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said prosecutors would decide within 48 hours whether ask a court for arrest warrants for the four — two first mates, a second mate and a chief engineer.

Video showed that captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, was among the first people rescued. Some of his crew said he had been hurt, but a doctor who treated him said he had no fracture and only light injuries.

Lee spoke of “pain in the left rib and in the back, but that was it,” Jang Ki-joon, director of the orthopedic department of Jindo Hankook University. Jang said he did not realize Lee was the captain until after he treated him.

So far 64 bodies have been recovered, and about 240 people remain missing. About 225 of the missing and dead are students from a single high school near Seoul who were on their way to the southern tourist island of Jeju.

As divers increasingly make their way into the submerged ship, including a new entryway through the dining hall Monday, there’s been a big jump in the discovery of corpses. And that means that on Jindo, an island near where the ferry sank, relatives of the missing must look at sparse details such as gender, height, hair length and clothing to see if their loved ones have been found.

There are no names listed as relatives huddle around white signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry — just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

“I’m afraid to even look at the white boards,” said Lim Son-mi, 50, whose 16-year-old daughter, Park Hye-son, has not been found. “But because all the information is quite similar, whenever I look at it, my heart breaks.”

Relatives have already lined up to give DNA samples at the gymnasium where many of them are staying, to make bodies easier to identify when they are recovered.

A transcript released by the coast guard Sunday shows the ship, which carried 476 people, was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing Wednesday.

About 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member repeatedly asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea’s southern coast.

That followed several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone said that it was “impossible to broadcast” instructions.

An unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center told the crew that they should “go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing.”

“If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?” the unidentified crew member asked.

“At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!” the traffic-center official responded.

“If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?” the crew member asked again.

“Don’t let them go bare — at least make them wear life rings and make them escape,” the traffic official repeated. “The rescue of human lives from the Sewol ferry … the captain should make his own decision and evacuate them. We don’t know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you’re going to evacuate passengers or not.”

“I’m not talking about that,” the crew member said. “I asked — if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?”

The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.

Ahn said Monday that a number of Sewol crew members, but not the captain, took part in the conversation.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list.

More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, but the confirmed death toll climbed over the weekend after divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel and quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies. They had been hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility.

Many relatives of the missing have been staying in a gymnasium on Jindo island, but dozens of relatives have started camping out at the port there to be closer to where the search was taking place, sleeping in tents. A Buddhist monk in white robes stood facing the water and chanted in a calm monotone as several relatives stood behind him, their hands pressed together and heads bowed in prayer.

The Sewol’s captain was arrested Saturday, along with one of the ship’s three helmsmen and the 25-year-old third mate. The third mate was steering at the time of the accident, in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said the third mate has refused to tell investigators why she made the sharp turn. Prosecutors have not named the third mate, but a fellow crew member identified her as Park Han-kyul.

As he was taken from court in Mokpo on Saturday, the captain explained his decision to wait before ordering an evacuation.

“At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold,” Lee told reporters, describing his fear that passengers, even if they were wearing life jackets, could drift away “and face many other difficulties.”

He said rescue boats had not yet arrived, and there were no civilian vessels nearby.

___

Kim reported from Mokpo, South Korea; Foster Klug, Youkyung Lee, Jung-yoon Choi and Leon Drouin-Keith in Seoul; and Minjeong Hong in Jindo contributed to this report.

reconnaissance

Cold War Tit-for-Tat 2.0

Squabbling—over who can see what—threatens a Colder War

+ READ ARTICLE

Last week, Moscow canceled a scheduled U.S. surveillance flight over Russia, apparently to keep prying U.S. eyes from scouting out Moscow’s forces huddling along its border with Ukraine.

This week, Washington is debating whether or not to bar a new Russian spy plane, the Tu-214, from flying over U.S. territory as part of the same 22-year-old arms verification regime.

The two actions aren’t linked. In fact, some U.S. officials say Moscow’s cancellation was due to poor weather and will be rescheduled. But it’s interesting that in both nations, there is a push to deny the other from flying an unarmed aircraft, designed to monitor military movements, across its home turf.

The idea sure beats secret American U-2 flights. The Soviets shot down Francis Gary Power’s U-2 over its territory in 1960, triggering an international showdown that could have led to war. The U.S. initially denied the plane’s mission, but was forced to recant when Moscow publicly revealed the plane, and Powers, to the world.

The 1992 Open Skies treaty lets sensor-laden aircraft fly over other nations with 72 hours’ notice (so that sensitive items can be shielded from view) to confirm compliance with arms-control pacts and monitor troop movements. Russia and Sweden are the only two nations that have flown such aircraft over the U.S. according to the Pentagon.

Four members of the Senate intelligence committee recently warned that Russia has built reconnaissance aircraft that will “support digital photograph equipment, sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar, and infrared equipment,” and cautioned against letting them over the U.S.

“We strongly urge you to carefully evaluate the ramifications of certification on future Open Skies observation flights and consider the equities of key U.S. Government stakeholders,” said the letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, signed by Senators Dan Coats, R-Ind., Mark Warner, D-Va., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “The invasion of Crimea and Moscow’s ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine using subversive methods is sufficient enough to counsel further review, irrespective of any technical concerns that may exist.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the House intelligence panel, is also concerned. “Putin’s attempt to upgrade Russia’s sensing capabilities now is particularly problematic,” he said in an Apr. 11 letter to Obama. “I have serious concerns about the technical advantages Russia would gain.”

Sounds ominous. But the treaty’s language already permits infrared devices and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar.

As for “digital photographic equipment”—when was the last time you loaded a roll of film into a camera? The U.S. government wants to do the same thing as you: “Technology advancements have made film cameras increasingly obsolete and, consequently, the United States is actively preparing for the transition to digital electro-optical sensors,” the State Department says in its assessment of the Open Skies treaty.

True, the U.S. is lagging behind the Russians in this area. “Based on current projections, the earliest the Air Force will fly an observation mission with digital cameras is the fall of 2017,” a member of the service’s International Treaty Compliance Office said last year.

Beyond that, any new capabilities have to be approved by all 34 signers of the treaty—and they must be commercially available to all of them.

The notion that one side has some technological edge that the other must thwart is what sparked the Cold War. These latest warnings, unless there is some missing element not being shared with the public, carry disturbing echoes of that time.

Knowledge beats ignorance. That’s why “trust, but verify” was Ronald Reagan’s superpower mantra. That’s even more true when trust is in short supply.

South Korea ferry

Transcript Reveals Confusion Over Ferry Evacuation

JINDO, South Korea (AP) — The South Korean ferry that sank was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing, a radio transcript released Sunday showed, suggesting the chaotic situation may have added to a death toll that could eventually exceed 300.

About 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea’s southern coast. The crew member posed the question three times in succession.

That followed several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone declared that it was “impossible to broadcast” instructions.

Many people followed the captain’s initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped. Fifty-nine bodies have been recovered, and about 240 people are still missing.

“Even if it’s impossible to broadcast, please go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing,” an unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center urged at 9:24 a.m. Wednesday, 29 minutes after the ferry first reported trouble, according to the transcript released by South Korea’s coast guard.

“If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?” the unidentified crew member asked.

“At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!” the traffic-center official responded.

“If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?” the crew member asked again.

“Don’t let them go bare — at least make them wear life rings and make them escape!” the traffic official repeated. “The rescue of human lives from the Sewol ferry … the captain should make his own decision and evacuate them. We don’t know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you’re going to evacuate passengers or not.”

“I’m not talking about that,” the crew member said. “I asked, if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?”

The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.

The ferry sank with 476 people on board, many of them students from a single high school. The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list. Several crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning passengers.

More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, which had been on its way from the South Korean port city of Incheon to the southern island of Jeju. The captain took more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order, which several passengers have said they never heard.

The confirmed death toll jumped over the weekend after divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel and quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies. They had been hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that another body was recovered early Monday near the sunken ship.

Families of the missing are staying on Jindo Island, where information sheets taped to the walls of a gymnasium offered details to help identify any corpses, including gender, height, length of hair and clothing.

It was too little for Lee Joung-hwa, a friend of a crew member who is among the missing.

“If only they could have made some kind of image of the person’s face. Who can tell who this person is just by height and weight?” Lee said.

A woman with a blue baseball cap shouted at government officials who were seated nearby, working at their desks. “I can’t live like this! I’m so anxious!” she yelled. “How can I trust the police?”

Anguished families, fearful they might be left without even their loved ones’ bodies, vented rage Sunday over the government’s handling of the crisis.

About 100 relatives attempted a long protest march to the presidential Blue House in Seoul, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the north, saying they wanted to voice their complaints to President Park Geun-hye. They walked for about six hours before police officers in neon jackets blocked a main road.

“The government is the killer,” they shouted as they pushed against a police barricade.

“We want an answer from the person in charge about why orders are not going through and nothing is being done,” said Lee Woon-geun, father of 17-year-old missing passenger Lee Jung-in. “They are clearly lying and kicking the responsibility to others.”

Earlier Sunday, relatives of the missing blocked the car of Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and demanded a meeting with Park as Chung made a visit to Jindo. Chung later returned to the gymnasium, but met only with a number of representatives of the family members in a side office.

On Sunday evening, dozens of relatives who gathered at the port in Jindo surrounded the fisheries minister, Lee Ju-young. They shouted, swore, yelled threats and pushed him as he was on his way to a meeting with other officials.

Relatives are desperate to retrieve bodies before they decompose beyond recognition, Lee Woon-geun said.

“After four or five days, the body starts to decay. When it’s decayed, if you try to hold a hand, it might fall off,” he said. “I miss my son. I’m really afraid I might not get to find his body.”

The Sewol’s captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, was arrested Saturday, along with one of the ship’s three helmsmen and the 25-year-old third mate. The third mate was steering at the time of the accident, in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said the third mate has refused to tell investigators why she made the sharp turn. Prosecutors have not named the third mate, but a fellow crew member identified her as Park Han-kyul.

As he was taken from court in Mokpo on Saturday, the captain explained his decision to wait before ordering an evacuation.

“At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold,” Lee told reporters, describing his fear that passengers, even if they were wearing life jackets, could drift away “and face many other difficulties.”

He said rescue boats had not yet arrived, and there were no civilian vessels nearby.

Ukraine

Ukrainian PM: Putin Wants to Restore USSR

'God knows where is the final destination.'

+ READ ARTICLE

Russian President Vladimir Putin “has a dream to restore the Soviet Union and every day he goes further and further,” interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told NBC’s David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday. “God knows where is the final destination.”

Ukrainian loyalist forces engaged in deadly clashes with pro-Russian groups this weekend despite a peace deal brokered in Geneva, Switzerland Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov.

Pro-Russian militants occupying buildings in eastern Ukraine refuse to back down until their demands, which range from autonomy from Kiev’s control to annexation by Russia, are met. Meanwhile, approximately 40,000 Russian troops are encamped along the Russia-Ukraine border.

Accident

8 Killed in Finland Parachutist Plane Accident

(HELSINKI) — Finnish officials say eight people died when a small plane carrying parachutists crashed to the ground and caught fire.

Det. Supt. Petri Kangas said three people survived the accident Sunday after they parachuted from the aircraft above Jamijarvi airfield, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) east of the southwestern town of Pori.

Kangas said investigators didn’t know the cause of the accident but that “apparently some parts fell off the plane before it crashed.”

Police said the eight victims were found in the badly burned aircraft, a Comp Air 8 kit aircraft, popular among parachutists.

Police said all 11 people on board were accounted for and that the three survivors were being treated for minor injuries.

Egypt

Egypt: Ex-Army Chief, Leftist to Run for President

(CAIRO) — Egypt’s election commission said Sunday only two presidential hopefuls, one of them the powerful former military chief who nine months ago ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader, have submitted their papers to run in next month’s polls.

With only two people — former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi — vying for the country’s top post, the race is certain to be dramatically different from Egypt’s 2012 presidential vote, when 13 candidates of all political stripes competed in a heated campaign.

Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood, won that race, defeating a former general in a runoff to become Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Just over a year later, the military removed Morsi from office following mass protests calling for his ouster.

El-Sissi, the man who led the military’s move against Morsi, is riding a wave of popular support and is the clear front-runner in this year’s vote. Since Morsi’s ouster, el-Sissi has achieved a near cult-of-personality. His picture is plastered in posters around the country; songs about the military and him ring out in weddings and private cafes, and he has been hailed in state and private media as a national savior.

Election commission spokesman Abdel-Aziz Salman said el-Sissi garnered 188,930 signatures of support. That’s nearly eight times the required 25, 000 signatures from at least 15 of Egypt’s 27 provinces that a would-be candidate needs in order to run.

El-Sissi’s only rival is Sabahi, a leftist politician who came in third in the 2012 elections after receiving around 5 million votes and largely appealing to Egypt’s secular youth and working class.

Salman said Sabahi submitted 31,555 signatures.

Sabahi’s staff has complained of intimidation tactics during the signature collection period and of bias by state officials in favor of el-Sissi. They blamed officials with links to former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

On Sunday, Sabahi’s office said military troops detained a campaign worker in north Sinai because of his political activities. It was not clear why he was taken into custody. The army is waging a campaign against militants in the restive region.

Some in Egypt have urged Sabahi to withdraw from the race to avoid providing what they say would be a democratic facade to el-Sissi’s likely victory. Ayman Nour, a liberal politician and 2005 presidential candidate who opposed Morsi’s ouster, said he had appealed to Sabahi to withdraw.

“I hope that my friend Sabahi doesn’t become an extra,” Nour told Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr from Lebanon where he has resided since the summer. “This is farcical theater.”

Over the next two weeks, the election commission will review the documents while also allowing the hopefuls to challenge their rival’s nomination on legal grounds. The campaign officially begins May 2, when the commission will announce a final list of candidates.

The May 26 and 27 presidential elections are pivotal to the post-Morsi political plan, and are to be followed by parliamentary vote. Morsi supporters reject the plan, and continue to hold near daily protests against the military-backed authorities.

Turnout in the vote will be a key test of el-Sissi’s popularity and the ability of Islamists and other critics of the military chief to impact the race— either by boycotting or supporting Sabahi. In the 2012 elections, nearly 50 percent of the voters took part in both rounds. There are 53 million registered voters this year.

Already buffeted by waves of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has been wrestling with a surge in political violence since Morsi’s overthrown in July.

Security forces have killed more than 1,300 Morsi supporters and detained another 16,000 — including the ousted leader himself —in a sweeping crackdown on Islamists. The crackdown has also widened to include secular critics of the military-backed government and the crackdown on Islamists.

Suspected militants, meanwhile, have killed more than 450 police and soldiers in clashes and attacks, the government says.

On Sunday, gunmen killed a police captain and a conscript in a firefight on a desert road outside Cairo, the Interior Ministry said, in the second such attack in three days to target Egypt’s security services.

The two security men were killed early Sunday while taking part in a joint security patrol that tried to stop a suspicious vehicle on the road to the canal city of Suez, the Interior Ministry said. The vehicle’s occupants opened fire before speeding off.

The ministry said Captain Ashraf Badeer al-Qazaz was killed in the firefight, along with a conscript from the central security force. A security official said initial investigation shows the gunmen were driving a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The attack comes two days after a bomb targeting a traffic post in a busy square in Cairo killed a policeman. A militant group that goes by the name of “Ajnad Misr,” or “Egypt’s Soldiers,” claimed responsibility for the blast. The group says it is waging a campaign against police because of the government crackdown on protesters.

Sunday’s attack comes as Egypt’s Orthodox Christians, who make up more than 10 percent of the country’s 85 million, celebrated Easter. Security was boosted around churches as worshippers flocked to them for the Easter Mass. Senior government officials, including the prime minister and the interior minister, paid visits to St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Confirms 20 New Cases of Deadly MERS Virus

SAUDI-HEALTH-MERS-VIRUS
Saudi medical staff leave the emergency department at a hospital in the center of Riyadh on April 8, 2014 Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

Around 49 people have been infected in the past six days by the incurable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, which has claimed 76 lives in Saudi Arabia. The country's Health Minister said he did not know the cause of the sudden rise in cases

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry this weekend confirmed 20 new cases of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. All told, the MERS virus has infected 244 people in Saudi Arabia, with 49 confirmed cases in the past six days alone.

Of the 244 infected people in total, 76 have died, Reuters reports. MERS has no known cure and kills approximately a third of the people it infects.

Saudi Arabia Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabia said Sunday that he did not know the cause of the sudden rise in cases. He said there was no current need for extra precautionary measures like travel restrictions.

Authorities say the disease, which scientists have linked to camels and is similar to the SARS virus, does not spread easily from person to person and could die out on its own. However, some experts have warned the virus could mutate, allowing for easier human-to-human transmission.

[Reuters]

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