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Second night of rescue efforts after deadly Italy bridge collapse

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Genoa (Italy)  |   Rescue workers toiled through a second night today in a desperate bid to find survivors in the rubble of a Genoa bridge which caved in during a heavy rainstorm, killing at least 39 people and injuring 16 more.

A vast span of the Morandi bridge collapsed in the northern port city on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 metres (150 feet) onto railway tracks below.

Italy’s government has blamed the firm that operated the collapsed bridge for the disaster and announced a state of emergency in the region.

Children aged eight, 12 and 13 were among the dead, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, adding that more people were still missing. Sixteen people were injured.

The driver of a green lorry left precariously close to the edge told Italian media how he had escaped the “hell” of the bridge collapse.

“It was raining very hard and it wasn’t possible to go very fast,” he told the Corriere Della Sera daily.

“When a car overtook me I slowed down… (then) at a certain moment everything shook. The car in front of me disappeared and seemed to be swallowed up by the clouds. I looked up and saw the bridge pylon fall,” he said.

“Instinctively, finding myself in front of the void, I put the van into reverse, to escape this hell,” he added.

Three Chileans, who live in Italy, and four French nationals were also killed.

The tragedy has focused anger on the structural problems that have dogged the decades-old Morandi bridge and the private sector firm Autostrade per l’Italia, which is currently in charge of operating and maintaining swathes of the country’s motorways.

Deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said the tragedy “could have been avoided”.

“Autostrade should have done maintenance and didn’t do it,” he alleged.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also confirmed that his government would push to revoke the company’s contract for the A10 motorway, which includes the bridge, while Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the company should be fined up to 150 million euros ( 170 million).

The firm, which said the bridge had been undergoing maintenance work, however, released a statement refuting accusations of underfunding of motorway infrastructure.

“In the last five years (2012-2017) the company’s investment in the security, maintenance and strengthening of the network has been over one billion euros a year,” it said.

Survivors recounted the heart-stopping moment when the bridge buckled, tossing vehicles and chunks of concrete into the abyss.

Davide Capello, a former goalkeeper for Italian Serie A club Cagliari, plunged with his car but was unscathed.

“I was driving along the bridge, and at a certain point I saw the road in front of me collapse, and I went down with the car,” he told TV news channel Sky TG24.

As cars and trucks tumbled off the bridge, Afifi Idriss, 39, a Moroccan truck driver, just managed to stop in time.

“I saw the green lorry in front of me stop and then reverse so I stopped too, locked the truck and ran,” he told AFP.

While around a dozen apartment blocks that stand in the shadow of the viaduct were largely spared the impact of the falling concrete, the Liguria regional government said some 634 people had been evacuated.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the homes would have to be pulled down.

The incident is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, a country prone to damage from seismic activity but where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.

The Morandi viaduct, completed in 1967, spans dozens of railway lines.

The bridge has been riddled with structural problems since its construction, which has led to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.

On Tuesday engineering website “Ingegneri.info” called it “a tragedy waiting to happen”.

Conte also announced after a cabinet meeting Wednesday that a national day of mourning was being planned. Media reports said it would be held on Saturday to coincide with some of the funerals.

There would also be a 12-month state of emergency in and around Genoa, Conte added, with five million euros of funds going into recovery work.

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‘I can’t breathe’ were Jamal Khashoggi’s final words: Reports

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Washington | Jamal Khashoggi‘s final words were “I can’t breathe”, CNN has said, citing a source who has read the transcript of an audio tape of the final moments before the journalist’s murder. The source told the US network the transcript made clear the killing was premeditated, and suggests several phone calls were made to give briefings on the progress.

CNN said on Sunday Turkish officials believe those calls were made to top officials in Riyadh. Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to The Washington Post, was killed shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The transcript of the gruesome recording includes descriptions of Khashoggi struggling against his murderers, CNN said, and references sounds of the dissident journalist’s body “being dismembered by a saw.”

The original transcript was prepared by Turkish intelligence services, and CNN said its source read a translation version and was briefed on the probe into the journalist’s death. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Sunday meanwhile rejected demands to extradite suspects connected to the murder of Khashoggi as sought by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia to hand over suspects in the killing. According to Turkey, a 15-member Saudi team was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia, however, holds that it was a “rogue” operation gone wrong — a claim undercut by the reported transcript.

For his part US President Donald Trump has refrained from blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, even though the CIA reportedly concluded that he ordered the assassination. The murder has damaged Riyadh’s international reputation and Western countries including the United States, France and Canada have placed sanctions on nearly 20 Saudi nationals.

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Macron to address nation on ‘yellow vest’ crisis Monday: French presidency

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Macron, also set to meet trade unionists and business leaders Monday, is expected to announce “immediate and concrete measures” to respond to the crisis.

 

Paris| French President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Monday, the Elysee said, following the four weeks of “yellow vest” anti-government protests, which have turned violent.

The president’s office said he would address the nation at 19.00 GMT, but did not provide other details. Macron, also set to meet trade unionists and business leaders Monday, is expected to announce “immediate and concrete measures” to respond to the crisis, according to Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud.

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Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou facing US extradition, appears in court

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Vancouver | A Canadian prosecutor urged a Vancouver court to deny bail to a Chinese executive at the heart of a case that is shaking up US-China relations and worrying global financial markets. Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecommunications giant Huawei and daughter of its founder, was detained at the request of the US during a layover at the Vancouver airport last Saturday — the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed over dinner to a 90-day ceasefire in a trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.

The US alleges that Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of US sanctions. It also says that Meng and Huawei misled American banks about its business dealings in Iran. The surprise arrest, already denounced by Beijing, raises doubts about whether the trade truce will hold and whether the world’s two biggest economies can resolve the complicated issues that divide them.

“I think it will have a distinctively negative effect on the US-China talks,” said Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economic adviser in President George W Bush’s White House.  “There’s the humiliating way this happened right before the dinner, with Xi unaware. Very hard to save face on this one. And we may see (Chinese retaliation), which will embitter relations.” Canadian prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said in a court hearing on Friday that a warrant had been issued for Meng’s arrest in New York August 22.  He said Meng, arrested en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, was aware of the investigation and had been avoiding the United States for months, even though her teenage son goes to school in Boston.

Gibb-Carsley alleged that Huawei had done business in Iran through a Hong Kong company called Skycom. Meng, he said, had misled US banks into thinking that Huawei and Skycom were separate when, in fact, “Skycom was Huawei.” Meng has contended that Huawei sold Skycom in 2009. In urging the court to reject Meng’s bail request, Gibb-Carsley said the Huawei executive had vast resources and a strong incentive to bolt: She’s facing fraud charges in the United States that could put her in prison for 30 years.

Meng’s lawyer, David Martin, argued that it would be unfair to deny her bail just because she “has worked hard and has extraordinary resources.” He told the court that her personal integrity and respect for her father, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, would prevent her violating a court order. Meng, who owns two homes in Vancouver, was willing to wear an ankle bracelet and put the houses up as collateral, he said. There was no bail decision by the judge on Friday so Meng will spend the weekend in jail and the hearing will resume Monday.

Justice William Ehrcke said he would think about proposed bail conditions over the weekend. Huawei, in a brief statement emailed to the AP, said that “we have every confidence that the Canadian and US legal systems will reach the right conclusion.” The company is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies and long has been seen as a front for spying by the Chinese military or security services. “What’s getting lost in the initial frenzy here is that Huawei has been in the crosshairs of US regulators for some time,” said Gregory Jaeger, special counsel at the Stroock law firm and a former Justice Department trial attorney.

“This is the culmination of what is likely to be a fairly lengthy investigation.” Meng’s arrest came as a jarring surprise after the Trump-Xi trade cease-fire in Argentina. Exact details of the agreement are elusive. But the White House said Trump suspended for 90 days an import tax hike on USD 200 billion in Chinese goods that was set to take effect January 1; in return, the White House said, the Chinese agreed to buy a “very substantial amount of agricultural, energy, industrial” and other products from the United States.

The delay was meant to buy time for the two countries to resolve a trade conflict that has been raging for months. The US charges that China is using predatory tactics in its drive to overtake America’s dominance in technology and global economic leadership. These allegedly include forcing American and other foreign companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market and engaging in cyber theft.

Washington also regards Beijing’s ambitious long-term development plan, “Made in China 2025,” as a scheme to dominate such fields as robotics and electric vehicles by unfairly subsidising Chinese companies and discriminating against foreign competitors. The United States has imposed tariffs on USD 250 billion in Chinese goods to pressure Beijing to change its ways.

Trump has threatened to expand the tariffs to include just about everything China ships to the United States. Beijing has lashed back with tariffs on about USD 110 billion in American exports.

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