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Suspension bridge collapse kills at least 133 in India

Suspension bridge collapse kills at least 133 in India

Military teams were searching Monday for people missing after a century-old cable suspension bridge collapsed into a river Sunday in the western Indian state of Gujarat, sending hundreds plunging into the water and killing at least 133 in one of the country’s worst accidents in years.

As families mourned the dead, attention was turning to why the bridge, built by the British in the late 1800s and touted as an “engineering marvel,” collapsed and who might be responsible.

The local government had awarded a 15-year contract to maintain and manage the bridge to a Morbi-based company, Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd., mainly known for making clocks, mosquito racquets and electric bikes.

It reopened the bridge, which spans a wide section of the Machchu river, on Oct. 26. That’s the first day of the Gujarati New Year, which coincides with the Hindu festival season, and the newly reopened attraction drew hundreds of sightseers.

Sandeepsinh Zala, a Morbi city official, told the Indian Express newspaper the company had reopened the bridge without first obtaining a “fitness certificate.” That claim could not be independently verified, but the state government said it had formed a special team to investigate the disaster.

Authorities said the structure collapsed under the weight of hundreds of people. Security footage of the disaster showed bridge shaking violently and people trying to keep hold of its cables and green-colored metal fencing before the aluminum walkway gave way and crashed into the river.

Visuals from the disaster site showed the bridge split in the middle and the metal walkway hanging down, its cables snapped in places. At least 177 survivors were pulled from the river and teams from the army, navy and air force were looking for others still missing, said Jigar Khunt, an information department official in Gujarat.

State minister Harsh Sanghvi told reporters that 133 people were confirmed dead and many others were admitted to hospitals in critical condition. Emergency responders and rescuers worked overnight to search for the survivors. Most of the victims were teens, women and older people, he said.

It was not immediately clear exactly how many people were on the bridge when it collapsed but survivors said it was so densely packed that the crowd was unable to quickly move to safety when its cable began to snap.

“There were just too many people on the bridge. We could barely move,” Sidik Bai, 27, said while recovering from injuries in a hospital bed in Morbi.

Sidik said he jumped into the water when the bridge began to crack and saw his friend being crushed by its metal walkway. He survived by clinging to the bridge’s cables, but his friend didn’t make it.

“Everyone was crying for help, but one by one they all began disappearing in the water,” Sidik said.

Local news channels ran pictures of the missing shared by concerned relatives and family members raced to overcrowded hospitals searching for their loved ones.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visiting his home state of Gujarat, said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy.” His office announced compensation for families of the dead and called for speedy rescue efforts.

“Rarely in my life, would I have experienced such pain,” Modi said during a public event in the state on Monday.

Modi was the top elected official of Gujarat for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014. A Gujarat state government election is expected in coming months and opposition parties have demanded an investigation into the collapse.

The bridge collapse is Asia’s third major disaster involving large crowds in a month.

On Saturday, a Halloween crowd surge killed more than 150 mostly young people who attended festivities in Itaewon, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. On Oct. 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators tried to flee.

India’s infrastructure has long been marred by safety concerns, and Mordi has suffered other major disasters. In 1979, an upstream dam on the Machchu river burst, sending walls of water into the city and killing hundreds of people in one of India’s biggest dam failures.

In 2001, thousands of people died in an earthquake in Gujarat. Morbi town, 85 miles (150 km) from the quake’s epicenter in Bhuj, suffered widespread damage. According to a report in the Times of India newspaper, the bridge that collapsed Sunday also was severely damaged.

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International

Guatemalan Leader, Deputy Jailed For Fraud

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced former President Otto Perez to 16 years in prison, finding him guilty of leading a massive customs fraud scheme while in office.

Perez, who was forced to resign in 2015, was found guilty of racketeering and fraud targeting the customs system, Judge Irma Valdes said as she read out the sentence.

Perez was sentenced to eight years on each count.

His former vice president Roxana Baldetti received the same sentence.

A United Nations-backed anti-corruption body revealed several scandals in Guatemala before it was shut down in 2019 by then-President Jimmy Morales after it began investigating him.

One of its key successes was uncovering a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat Guatemala’s customs duty system, which ultimately led to Perez’s resignation.

Those involved in the scheme – known as “La Linea” (The Line) – received bribes of some $3.5 million, according to investigators, who estimate that Guatemala was defrauded out of almost $10 million in tax revenue.

After the sentence was handed down Perez, 72, told reporters, “I truly feel frustrated, I feel disappointed.”

He said he would appeal the ruling.

Sixteen other people involved in the scam were convicted during the sentencing and 11 others were acquitted.

“The ‘La Linea’ case is one of the most symbolic and is a milestone in Guatemalan history,” director of Transparency International’s local chapter, Citizen Action, Edie Cux, told AFP.

“It is important that in some way the people of Guatemala have justice and that the case does not go unpunished,” she added.

(AFP)

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International

Trump Organization Convicted Of Tax Fraud

Donald Trump’s real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former U.S. president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.

The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estate around the world – was found guilty of paying personal expenses for top executives including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and issuing bonus checks to them as if they were independent contractors.

The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines after being convicted on all charges, including scheming to defraud tax authorities, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Trump was not charged in the case.

Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial in state court in New York, set a sentencing date for Jan. 13.

While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction could complicate its ability to do business.

Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government’s star witness as part of a plea deal that calls for a sentence of five months in jail.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office prosecuted the case, called the verdict “very just.”

“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes,” Bragg said in the New York courthouse after the verdict, speaking of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, the two units of the Trump Organization which were convicted.

Asked if he regretted not charging Trump in the case, Bragg did not respond.

He has said that the office’s investigation into Trump is continuing.

(Reuters)

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International

Forbes says Elon Musk Is No Longer World’s Richest Man

Twitter owner and Tesla (TSLA.O) boss Elon Musk briefly lost his title as the world’s richest person on Wednesday, according to Forbes, following a steep drop in the value of his stake in the electric-car maker and a $44 billion bet on the social media firm.

Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH (LVMH.PA), and his family briefly took the title as the world’s richest, but were back at No. 2 with a personal wealth of $185.3 billion, according to Forbes.

Musk, who has held the top spot on the Forbes list since September 2021, has a net worth of $185.7 billion. Musk took over the title from Amazon.com (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos.

Tesla shares, which have lost more than 47% in value since Musk made his offer to buy Twitter earlier this year, were down 2.7%.

Musk’s net worth dropped below $200 billion earlier on Nov. 8 as investors dumped Tesla’s shares on worries the top executive and largest shareholder of the world’s most valuable electric-vehicle maker is more preoccupied with Twitter.

Tesla has lost nearly half its market value and Musk’s net worth has dropped by about $70 billion since he bid for Twitter in April. Musk closed the deal for Twitter in October with $13 billion in loans and a $33.5 billion equity commitment.

Besides Tesla, Musk also heads rocket company SpaceX and Neuralink, a startup that is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers.

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