UN rejects claims from cholera victims: The United Nations has formally rejected damage claims from lawyers working on behalf of the victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. UN peacekeepers have been accused of introducing the disease to the country, which has infected more than 600,000 people and killed around 8,000 since 2010.
In a terse statement, the spokesman for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the damages claim was ‘not receivable’, under a convention that grants the United Nations immunity for its actions.
Families of the victims are demanding millions of dollars in compensation, accusing the UN of introducing the disease to Haiti. The UN has never admitted responsibility, despite mounting evidence that the epidemic was caused by poor sanitation at a peacekeeping camp.
A lawyer for the cholera victims told the BBC that UN immunity could not mean impunity, and said the case would now be pursued in a national court. The lawyer, Brian Concannon, said the victims’ legal team would challenge the UN’s right to immunity from Haitian courts, on the grounds that it hadn’t established an alternative mechanism for dealing with accountability issues, as stipulated in its agreement with the government.
He also said lifting immunity would not challenge UN policy, which is protected by the convention, but its practice, such as how to test troops for disease and properly dispose of sewage.
There’s evidence that infected Nepalese peacekeepers caused the epidemic by dumping untreated waste into a key river system, but the UN insists it’s impossible to pinpoint blame definitively. Late last year it launched an initiative to eliminate cholera in Haiti by investing in clean drinking water and sanitation systems, a move Mr Concannon said he considered an unofficial response to the victims’ claims.
Sri Lankan religious tensions: A new Sinhalese Buddhist group in Sri Lanka has called for the abolition of Muslim laws about how certain foods should be prepared.
This comes at a time of rising religious tension in the country.
Not only at the grounds where thousands of Sinhalese gathered, but throughout the surrounding streets too, the hardline nationalistic speeches resounded.
The Buddhist Strength Force, founded nine months ago, used explicitly racial rhetoric. One monk, its leader, told the crowd that “only monks can save this race”, meaning the Sinhalese, who are about three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s population.
A poster depicted a lion, symbol of the Sinhalese, telling its cub: “This land belongs to you and its soil is red with the blood of your people”.
The group denies being anti-minority. But its youth activists wore T-shirts denouncing the halal system whereby the Muslim minority certifies which goods are acceptable to consume.
Referring to Muslim clerics in derogatory language, the monk said what he called Christian and Muslim extremists were threatening Buddhists. He said there were 400 such Christian organisations and a hostile army of 12,000 Muslims allegedly trained in the Middle East.
But hundreds of monks were ready to fight: “Our country is a Sinhalese one and we are its unofficial police”, he added. Both Muslims and Christians deny promoting extremism in Sri Lanka.
Meteor hits Russia: More than 400 people have been injured in Russia by an explosion caused by what seems to have been a meteor.
Eyewitnesses describe seeing a fireball curving through the clear sky, and an extremely intense light as it passed overhead.
It seems to have been a meteor, and left a white condensation trail behind it. A couple of minutes later there was a loud bang.
The shock wave from the blast blew out windows across the region round Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains.
People who’d rushed to look out and see what was happening were injured by flying glass.
Everyone went outside to check their neighbours were OK, and the mobile phone network collapsed, briefly overwhelmed by the volume of calls.
Ceremony for new Archbishop of Canterbury: The former Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury at a service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London today, legally confirming his selection last year.
Even by the standards of Church ritual, the confirmation of an Archbishop of Canterbury’s election is an extraordinary event. Senior bishops will sit in St Paul’s Cathedral as a court of law, using elaborate language and flowery titles to certify Justin Welby in his new post.
The ceremony, little changed over centuries, was originally intended to prevent false claimants being appointed to what were lucrative posts as bishop. Bishop Welby’s enthronement, amid colourful ritual and soaring music, is next month in Canterbury Cathedral, and the event has usually eclipsed this legal ceremony.
However, Justin Welby requested that today’s event be set in a full church service – including hymns and a sermon – to reflect the essentially religious nature of his new post. As the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, reads and signs a ‘final proclamation‘, Bishop Welby will become archbishop, and spiritual leader of some 80 million Anglicans across the world.
What does Europe want from Obama?: According to one survey, 75% of Europeans would have voted for President Obama if they could, compared to only 8% who would have chosen the Republican Mitt Romney. But what does Europe want from Obama’s second term?
In President Obama’s second term there are two longer-term developments that will affect the relationship with Europe. The first is the US budget deficit, the second the so-called “pivot” – or the rebalancing of focus towards Asia.
America’s finances will mean, now even more than in the first term, the US will be what some have called a “frugal superpower” – leading from behind as they did in Libya, and as they look to be doing in Mali.
But then that frugal nature is not altogether bad news. The US remains by far the biggest customer for European exporters.
Generally the Europeans are content with the status quo. The last thing they need at a time when Europe is so embroiled in its own internal debates, is the external distraction of a change in guard across the pond.
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