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12 dead in massive fire at London residential tower

Firefighters rescued many people and are still trying to put the fire out in the 24-storey block 12 hours on.



London, Jun 14 : A huge blaze today engulfed a 24- storey residential tower block in west London housing over 100 families, killing at least 12 people and injuring 74 others, with police suspecting the death toll could rise further.

The fire at Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West Estate in Latimer Road was reported at 01:16 local time. About 600 people were believed to have been inside the tower’s 120 flats when the blaze ripped through the building.

The Metropolitan Police, which previously had put the number of fatalities at six, now raised the death toll to 12.

Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police earlier said the recovery operation would be complex “over a number of days.”

He said it was likely to be some time before police could identify the victims, and it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.

The fire is thought to have started because of a faulty refrigerator on the 3rd or 4th floor of the building soon after midnight and destroyed flat after flat.

By noon, the building looked to be just smoking ruins but the fire again took hold, and cladding began to fall to the ground.

Eyewitnesses described people trapped in the burning tower, in north Kensington, screaming for help and yelling for their children to be saved.

Firefighters rescued many people and are still trying to put the fire out in the 24-storey block 12 hours on.

Police say there may still be people in the building who are unaccounted for.

Eyewitnesses said they saw lights – thought to be mobile phones or torches – flashing at the top of the block of flats, and trapped residents coming to their windows – some holding children.

It is understood that “several hundred” people would have been in the block when the fire broke out shortly after midnight, most of them sleeping.

“This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton told reporters.

“Extensive cordons remain in place and a number of nearby residents have been evacuated as a precaution,” Cundy said.

Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police, said the recovery operation would be “complex and lengthy”, and the number of fatalities was expected to rise.

He declined to give any details of the number of people who may be missing.

He said it was likely to be some time before police could identify the victims, adding that it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.

Firefighters rescued “large numbers”, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan said “a lot” of people were unaccounted for.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing people trapped inside the burning building screaming for help and shouting for their children to be saved. People screamed for help as the fire took hold of the building. Some residents were seen using bedsheets to make their escape from the tower block.

As fire-fighters fought the blaze, witnesses said a baby was caught by members of the public after being dropped from the window of the 9th floor.

Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said firefighters expected to be on the scene for at least another 24 hours and she would not speculate about the cause of the blaze.

She said there were concerns that people were still inside the tower and she urged all residents to make sure they had reported themselves to police so that the authorities know they are safe.

Prime Minister Theresa May is “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life”, said Downing Street.

The area around Grenfell Tower is home to a large number of Muslims. Many were awake at the time the fire broke out having their early morning meal before beginning the daily fast for the holy month of Ramzan.

The survivors, whose belongings are presumed to have been destroyed, gathered in the nearby Rugby Portobello community centre where they were given water, clothes and blankets.

Michael Paramasivan, who lives on the seventh floor with his girlfriend and young daughter, said he ignored official advice to stay in your home.

“If we had stayed in that flat, we would’ve perished. My gut instinct told me just to get the girls out. I wrapped the little one up because of the smoke and I just got them out,” he said.

“I’m lucky to be alive and lots of people have not got out of the building I’ve lost everything I own. I m standing here in everything I ve got,” one survivor said.

Paul Munakr, who lives on the seventh floor, spoke of his escape. “As I was going down the stairs, there were firefighters, truly amazing firefighters that were actually going upstairs, to the fire, trying to get as many people out the building as possible,” he told the BBC.

Another resident, Zoe, who lives on the fourth floor, said she was woken by a neighbour banging on her door.

“The whole landing was thick with smoke. The smoke alarms weren’t going off but the way it spread so quickly from the fourth floor, all the way up to the 23rd floor was scary,” she said.

Refurbishment of the housing block had been completed last year and the Fire Brigades Union said something had gone badly wrong with fire prevention procedures at the building.

London Mayor Khan declared the fire as a “major incident” and said questions will need to be answered over the safety of such tower blocks.

“We can’t have a situation where people’s safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained,” he said.

Grenfell Tower is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the local council.

The local Grenfell Action Group had claimed, before and during the refurbishment, that the block constituted a fire risk and residents had warned that access to the site for emergency vehicles was “severely restricted”.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building burning through to “its very core”.

Distraught relatives have been using social media to try and make contact with missing loved ones.


Voting underway in Russia presidential election



Russia election
Voters write ballots at a polling station in Vladivostok, east Russia, March 18, 2018. Russia held presidential election on Sunday.

Moscow, March 18: Voting was underway for Russia’s presidential election on Sunday, in which incumbent President Vladimir Putin is seeking a fourth term in office and is widely expected to cement his power for the next six years.

The polling stations will remain open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in every Russian region in accordance with the 11 different time zones, reports Sputnik news.

Voting first began in the Far-East regions of Kamchatka and Chukotka and began in Moscow nine hours later.

Counting will start on Sunday night in Kaliningrad, Russia’s western-most region.

Putin, 65, cast his vote at a polling station in the headquarters of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow’s Lenin Avenue, reports Efe news.

Asked about the percentage of votes he hopes to win, Putin told reporters that he would be satisfied with “any that gives the right to serve as president”.

There are 108.9 million eligible voters in Russia with 1.87 million others living abroad.

A total of 97,000 polling stations have been set up across Russia and another 400 in 145 countries.

However, Russians living in Ukraine will not be allowed to participate, after the Ukrainian government barred them from visiting Moscow’s diplomatic delegations because it considers Russia to be an “aggressor” and has dismissed its elections as “illegal”.

Russians in Crimea will be able to vote on Sunday, which coincides with the fourth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation by Moscow.

Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov also cast his ballot, reports Sputnik news.

The results will be announced on early Monday morning.

Apart from Putin, the other seven contenders in the fray are: Sergei Baburin from the All-People’s Union party; Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin; Civil Initiative party candidate Ksenia Sobchak; Communists of Russia party chairman Maxim Suraykin; Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov; co-founder of the Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky; and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The voter turnout in Moscow in the first two hours was 16.55 per cent, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

While the turnout in most of the country’s eastern regions was 30.37 per cent by noon (local time).

Meanwhile, the CEC has registered 15 DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks on its website, coming from 15 countries.

Pre-election polls have placed Putin, the country’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, as a clear front-runner, reports CNN.

There is no meaningful opposition in the running, and Putin’s fiercest political opponent, Alexei Navalny, has been barred from competing. Navalny has called for a boycott of the election.

A win would mean a Putin-led Russia until 2024, after which he is constitutionally obliged to stand down.


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Li Keqiang re-elected as China’s Prime Minister



Li Keqiang

Beijing, March 18: Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Sunday was re-elected for his second five-year term at the ongoing parliament session.

Li is the second-ranking leader in China after President Xi Jinping who has emerged as the most powerful leader after Mao Zedong.

Li was nominated for the premiership by Xi.

Li, who became premier in 2013, heads the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

The annual meeting of the National People’s Congress — China’s ceremonial parliament – is on during which a major reshuffle in the government was announced.

Besides Li, Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia were elected as the Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission headed by Xi. The body controls the Chinese Army.

Yang Xiaodu was appointed as the chief of new and super powerful anti-graft body, the National Supervisory Commission.

The body was set up by merging the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and various other government anti-corruption units.

Until last year, CCDI was headed by Wang Qishan, trusted aide of Xi.

Wang arguably became the most feared man in China due to the massive crackdown by the agency.

Over 1.5 million including top politicians and generals have been punished in the drive launched by Xi in 2013.

On Saturday, Wang was appointed the Vice President while Xi was re-elected President.


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Row over ex-spy’s poisoning : Moscow expels UK diplomats

The diplomatic crisis between UK and Russia has escalated after the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War”.




After  the leaders of the United States, Britain, France and Germany have squarely blamed Russia for the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain with a powerful nerve agent,the Russian Foreign Ministry had asked 23 UK diplomats to leave Russia.

The diplomatic crisis between UK and Russia has escalated after the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War”. Russia acted in response to Britain’s “provocative actions and groundless accusations” over ex-double agent Sergei Skripal’s poisoning.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Britain or Sweden were likely sources of the nerve agent. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated British accusations of Moscow’s involvement were intended to distract public attention from the UK’s troubled exit from the European Union.

Where as British PM Theresa May has warned Moscow that Britain “would never tolerate a threat to the life” of its citizens, or others in the country.”This act of Russian aggression is the very antithesis of the liberal and democratic values that define the United Kingdom,” she said.

US President Donald Trump then apparently supported the accusations made by May, saying that “it looks like” no one other than Russian President Vladimir Putin could have been behind the attack.. As the probe into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal is still ongoing and needs time for tangible results, UK is contemplating appropriate response to the poisoning that  includes legislative powers to defend against hostile state activity and the suspension of high-level contacts between the two countries.

Moscow has repeatedly offered its full cooperation in investigating the incident, which London claims involved a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that the alliance nations have followed through with some high-profile moves to deter Russian interference, the secretary general noted. In 2017, NATO nations deployed four multinational battle groups to the Baltic republics and to Poland. Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States each lead a battalion-sized group, and troops from many NATO nations are members.

Toltenberg discussed the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British police officer with a military-grade nerve agent – that was traced to Russia. British officials say this attack is an unlawful use of force by Russia against the United Kingdom.

“This is the first offensive use of a nerve agent on alliance territory since NATO’s foundation,” the secretary general said. “All allies agree that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements. This is unacceptable. It has no place in a civilized world.”

NATO regards any use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security, he said. “The attack in Salisbury has taken place against the backdrop of a reckless pattern of Russian behavior over many years,” Toltenberg said.

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