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At least 44 killed, 67 injured in coronavirus hospital fire in Iraq
13 July 2021, 5:35 AM

At least 44 people were killed and over 67 injured in a fire likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Iraq’s southern city of Nassiriya, health officials and police said on Monday.

As rescuers combed the smoke-charred building in search of more bodies, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defense managers in Nassiriya, his office said in a statement.

The manager of the hospital was also suspended and ordered to be arrested, the statement added. Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17 592 people and infected more than 1.4 million.

“Health crews carried charred bodies out of the burning hospital while many patients were coughing from the rising smoke,” a Reuters reporter at the site of the fire said. Health officials at Nassiriya said search operations at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital were continuing after the fire was brought under control, but thick smoke was making it difficult to enter some of the burnt wards.

“Raging fires have trapped many patients inside the coronavirus ward and rescue teams are struggling to reach them,” a health worker told Reuters before entering the burning building. Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion inside the hospital’s COVID-19 wards was the likely cause of the fire, a policeman at the scene of the fire said.

“I heard a big explosion inside the coronavirus wards and then fire had erupted very quickly,” said Ali Muhsin, a hospital guard who was helping carrying wounded patients away from fires.

In April, a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion at aCOVID-19 hospital in Baghdad killed at least 82 people and injured 110 others.

Health sources said earlier the death toll from Monday’s fire could rise as many patients were still missing. Two health workers were among the dead, they said. Angry relatives gathered in front of the hospital and clashed with police, setting fire to two police vehicles, a Reuters witness said.

Weary of political violence, Iraqis also suffer frequent accidents due to under-investment, corruption and wrecked infrastructure. During the coronavirus crisis, hospitals have struggled with an influx of patients and short supplies.

“Corrupt officials must be held accountable for the fire and killing innocent patients. Where is my father’s body,” said one young man as he searched among charred bodies wrapped in blankets in the hospital’s yard.

Soldiers deployed to protect the police as efforts to quell violent protests continue
12 July 2021, 1:00 PM

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been deployed to assist police as they continue to try and control violent protests marked by looting and destruction of property in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

In a statement, the military says: “The duration and number of deploying soldiers will be determined based on the assessment of the situation on the ground by the relevant law enforcement agencies.”

It says the soldiers will be providing safety and safe environment for members of the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies whilst they carry out their Constitutionally mandated law and order duties.

Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi says more information on the deployment of the soldiers will follow in due course.

SABC News reporter, Jayed-Leigh Paulse spotted the soldiers prior to the confirmation:

So far, six people have reportedly died amid the demonstrations, calling for the release of former president Jacob Zuma from prison.

National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure says at least 219 people have been arrested.

There have been chaotic scenes since the weekend with stores having been looted, vehicles burned and buildings destroyed. DA Leader John Steenhuisen has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to urgently intervene to control ongoing violent protests.

Looting in Cinderella Park in Pietermaritzburg, residents disheartened:

NatJOINTS reports six deaths and 219 arrests since outbreak of KZN, Gauteng riots
12 July 2021, 12:15 PM

South African government intelligence body, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, says there’ve been reports of six deaths since the outbreak of violent protests in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Spokesperson, Brenda Muridili, says the bodies of four people have been found in Gauteng, two of them with gunshot wounds. A security guard had also been fatally assaulted.

The bodies were found in Alexandra, Jeppestown, Dobsonville and Germiston.

Two other deaths were reported in Inanda and Umbilo in KwaZulu-Natal.

Muridili says they’re investigating the circumstances leading to the deaths and have stepped up operations.

“The total number of people that have been arrested as of this morning is 219, with 96 in Gauteng and 123 in KwaZulu-Natal. The NatJOINTS has intensified deployments in all the areas in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal affected by the violent protests as the damage to property and looting of stores continued overnight. Gauteng police are investigating the circumstances into the deaths of four people since the break out of violent protests. In KwaZulu-Natal there is a report of two people who have been killed so far,” she says.

Muridili says the extent of damage to property and the looting of businesses will be determined at a later stage.

Looting in Eldorado Park:

Authorities in KwaZulu-Natal have meanwhile deployed soldiers at national key points to protect them.

SANEF condemns attacks on journalists covering violent protests
12 July 2021, 9:01 AM

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) has strongly condemned the attacks on journalists covering the violent unrest and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

A SABC TV News crew’s vehicle was stoned in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday morning, leaving a camera operator injured, a day after the public broadcaster’s crew was robbed in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg on Sunday.

A camera and vehicle belonging to Newzroom Afrika was badly damaged in Hillbrow and a News24 journalist was also threatened.

SANEF’s secretary general, Mahlatse Mahlase, says reporters need to be accorded the respect and space to do their jobs.

“We strongly condemn the attacks on journalists who are doing their jobs and trying to keep South Africans informed. Journalists have been working under very difficult circumstances throughout this pandemic risking their own lives. And now to have communities turn on them, steal their equipment have their cars shot really put their lives in danger. And we like to appeal to communities to be the ones that actually stand for the protection of journalist when they see them under attack,” says Mahlase.

More on Sanef’s views on the matter:

Thousands of Cubans join biggest anti-government protests in decades
12 July 2021, 8:01 AM

Chanting “freedom” and calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down, thousands of Cubans joined street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades.

The protests erupted amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, its former ally, and a record surge in coronavirus infections, with people voicing anger over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.

Thousands gathered in downtown Havana and along parts of these aside drive, their shouts of Diaz-Canel step down drowning out groups of government supporters brandishing the Cuban flag and chanting “Fidel.”

Special forces jeeps, with machine guns mounted on the back were seen throughout the capital, Havana, and the police presence was heavy even long after protesters had gone home.

“We are going through really difficult times,” Miranda Lazara, 53, a dance teacher, who spontaneously joined the thousands of protesters who marched through Havana. “We need a change of system.”

Diaz-Canel, who also heads the Communist Party, blamed the unrest on old Cold War foe the United States, which in recent years tightened its decades-old trade embargo on the island, in a televised speech on Sunday afternoon. Diaz-Canel said many protesters were sincere but manipulated by US-orchestrated social media campaigns and warned that further provocations would not be tolerated, calling on supporters to confront such provocations.”

Julie Chung, acting undersecretary of the US State Department’s Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said it was deeply concerned by calls to combat in Cuba and stood by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly.”

Reuters witnesses in Havana protests saw security forces, aided by suspected plain clothes officers, arrest around two dozen protesters. Police sprayed pepper spray and hit some protesters as well as a photographer working for Associated Press.

In one area of Havana, protesters took out their anger on an empty police car, rolling it over and then throwing stones at it. Elsewhere, they chanted “repressors” at riot police. Some protesters said they went on to the streets to join in after seeing what was happening on social media, which has become an increasingly important factor since the introduction of mobile internet two and a half years ago, although connections were patchy on Sunday.

Nationwide protests 

The Caribbean island nation of 11 million inhabitants where public dissident is usually restricted has seen a growing number of protests over the past year although nothing on this scale or simultaneously in so many cities. The anti-government demonstrations were the largest since the summer of 1994, said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.

“Only now, they weren’t limited to the capital; they didn’t even start there, it seems,” he said.

Sunday’s demonstrations broke out in San Antonio de los Banos municipality in Artemis a Province, bordering Havana. Video on social media showed hundreds of residents chanting anti-government slogans and demanding everything from coronavirus vaccines to an end of daily blackouts.

“I just walked through town looking to buy some food and there were lots of people there, some with signs, protesting,” local resident Claris Ramirez said by phone. They are protesting blackouts, that there is no medicine”.

President Diaz-Canel visited the town, later saying in his broadcast remarks: “We are calling on all the revolutionaries in the country, all the Communists, to hit the streets wherever there is an effort to produce these provocations”.

There were protests later on Sunday hundreds of miles (km) to the east in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, where social media video showed hundreds marching through the streets, again confirmed by a local resident.

Cuba has been experiencing a worsening economic crisis for two years, which the government blames mainly on US sanctions and the pandemic, while its detractors cite incompetence and a Soviet-style one-party system. A combination of sanctions, local inefficiencies and the pandemic has shut down tourism and slowed other foreign revenue flows in a country dependent on them to import the bulk of its food, fuel and inputs for agriculture and manufacturing. The economy contracted 10.9% last year, and 2% through June of 2021. The resulting cash crunch has spawned shortages that have forced Cubans to queue hours for basic goods throughout the pandemic.

Cuba has begun a mass vaccination campaign, with 1.7 million of its 11.2 million residents vaccinated to date and twice that many have received at least one shot in the three-shot process. Still, the arrival of the Delta variant has prompted cases to surge, with health authorities reporting a record 6 923 cases and 47 deaths on Sunday – twice as many a week prior, and hospitals in the worst affected province have been overwhelmed.

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