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.'

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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 the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 8, 2014. Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

Around 49 people have been infected in the last 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 last 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 such as 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]

MH370

Video: Inside the Air Search for MH370

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Watch this elite crew of New Zealand air searchers as they survey an area nearly the width of the U.S. for any sign of missing Flight MH370.

Watch: Pope Francis and Easter at the Vatican

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Watch highlights of Pope Francis’s Easter prayers for peace in Syria and Ukraine via Vatican Radio and TV.

Abdullah Ahead in Latest Afghanistan Election Results

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Kabul
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Kabul, April 5, 2014. Ahmad Masood—Reuters

Abdullah Abdullah currently leads with 44 percent of the votes tallied so far, followed by former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai with 33.2 percent -- though that could change before final results are announced on May 14

Partial results from Afghanistan’s presidential elections released Sunday reveal candidate Abdullah Abdullah as the front-runner, though a runoff election still appears likely.

Abdullah, who ran against current president Hamid Karzai in the last election, has 44 percent of the votes that have been tallied so far. Abdullah’s closest competitor, former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has received 33.2 percent of the vote.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced the results, which represent close to half of the approximately 7 million votes cast in the April 5 election, the Associated Press reports. Final election results are expected on May 14.

The victor will oversee Afghanistan through a period of transition as the U.S. and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries are expected to withdraw troops from the country. Both candidates have called for a new start with Western countries and have promised to sign a U.S. security pact with which Karzai has refused to agree.

[AP]

Religion

Pope Francis Prays for Peace on Easter Sunday

Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica where he delivered the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for to the city and to the world) at the end of the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the the Vatican, April 20, 2014. L'Osservatore Romano/AP

In his Easter address to more than 150,000 at St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis called for an end to the recent conflicts in Syria, Nigeria and Ukraine

Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine during his Easter mass in Vatican City on Sunday.

“We ask [God] to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence,” Francis said in front of a crowd of more than 150,000 visitors at St. Peter’s Basilica.

This year, the Catholic church’s celebration of Easter coincides with Easter in the Orthodox churches, which have a sizable presence in Ukraine.

The Pontiff also prayed for peace in Syria and the Middle East at large, an end to the recent Nigerian terrorist attacks that have targeted Christians and an end to the deadly Ebola outbreak in parts of Africa, the Associated Press reports.

Pope Francis said the hopeful spirit of Easter means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”

[AP]

South Korea

South Korea Ferry Death Toll Rises to 61

Rescue workers carry the body of passenger who was on the capsized Sewol passenger ship at a port where family members of missing passengers have gathered, in Jindo
Rescue workers carry the body of a passenger who was on the capsized Sewol passenger ship, which sank in the sea off Jindo, between lines of police officers, at a port where family members of missing passengers have gathered, in Jindo April 20, 2014. Kim Hong-Ji—Reuters

The death toll in the South Korean ferry disaster has risen to 61 as divers were able to enter the boat and discovered more than a dozen bodies. Nearly 240 people, many of them high school students, remain missing

Updated: April 20, 2014, 7:10 p.m. E.T.

The death toll in a ferry disaster off the South Korean coast officially rose to 61 on Sunday after divers entered the boat and discovered several bodies, the country’s coast guard announced.

Divers have had difficulty entering the Sewol ferry, which sank Wednesday off South Korea’s southern coast, due to low visibility, inclement weather and strong currents, the Associated Press reports. Divers finally entered the vessel late Saturday and discovered 13 bodies inside along with several more floating near the boat.

Nearly 240 people — many of whom were traveling high school students — remain missing.

The Sewol’s captain and two other crew members were arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence. A transcript from the vessel’s communication system released Sunday reveals widespread confusion among passengers. Many of those aboard followed the captain’s initial orders to stay below deck, where authorities believe they have been trapped. The captain’s initial instructions for passengers to remain in the cabins have puzzled maritime experts.

It took more than half an hour since trouble was first detected for the captain to issue an evacuation order, which some survivors say they never heard.

[AP]

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