Egypt Independent: World-Main news en Vice principal of South Korea school in ferry disaster commits suicide <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>The vice principal of a South Korean high school who accompanied hundreds of his pupils on what turned out to be a disastrous ferry trip has committed suicide, police said on Friday, as hopes faded of finding any of the 268 missing passengers alive.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Kang Min-gyu, 52, had been missing since Thursday. He appeared to have hanged himself with his belt from a tree outside a gym in the port city of Jindo where relatives of the people missing on the ship, mostly children from the school, were gathered.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Police said Kang did not leave a suicide note and that they started looking for him after he was reported missing by a fellow-teacher. He was rescued from the ferry after it capsized on Wednesday</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Of the 475 passengers and crew on the ferry, 28 people had been officially been declared dead before Kang&#39;s suicide and 179 were rescued. The overwhelming majority of the missing are students from the Danwon High School on the outskirts of Seoul, who were on a holiday trip.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Divers are fighting strong tides and murky waters to get to the sunken ship but the likelihood of finding any of the missing alive is slim.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>At the high school in Ansan, an industrial town near Seoul, many friends and family of the missing gathered in sombre silence, with occasional sounds of sobbing breaking the quiet.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;When I first received the call telling me the news, at that time I still had hope,&quot; said Cho Kyung-mi, who was waiting for news of her missing 16 year-old nephew at the school.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;And now it&#39;s all gone.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the classrooms of the missing, fellow students have left messages on desks, blackboards and windows, asking for the safe return of their missing friends.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;If I see you again, I&#39;ll tell you I love you, because I haven&#39;t said it to you enough,&quot; reads one message.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Investigations into the sinking, South Korea&#39;s worst maritime accident in 21 years based on possible casualties, have centred on possible crew negligence, problems with cargo stowage and structural defects of the vessel, although the ship appears to have passed all of its safety and insurance checks.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The 69-year old ship captain has also come under scrutiny after witnesses said he was among the first to escape the sinking vessel that was on a 400-km (300-mile) voyage from the port city of Incheon to the Korean holiday island of Jeju.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to investigators, Captain Lee Joon-seok was not on the bridge at the time the Sewol ferry started to list sharply, with a junior officer at the wheel.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I&#39;m not sure where the captain was before the accident. However right after the accident, I saw him rushing back into the steering house ahead of me,&quot; said Oh Young-seok, one of the helmsmen on the ship who was off duty and resting at the time.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;He calmly asked by how much the ship was tilted, and tried to re-balance the ship,&quot; said Oh who was speaking from a hospital bed in the city of Mokpo on Friday, where those injured in the incident have been taken.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Normal practice</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Handing over the helm is normal practice on the voyage from Incheon to Jeju that usually takes 13.5 hours, according to local shipping crew.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Divers gained access to the cargo deck of the ferry on Friday, although that was not close to the passenger quarters, according to a coastguard official.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Other coastguard officials said that divers made several attempts to make it to the passenger areas but failed.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We cannot even see the ship&#39;s white colour. Our people are just touching the hull with their hands,&quot; Kim Chun-il, a diver from Undine Marine Industries, told relatives of the missing on Friday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The ferry went down in calm conditions and was following a frequently travelled route in familiar waters. Although relatively close to shore, the area was free of rocks and reefs.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Lee has not commented on when he left the ship, although he has apologised for the loss of life.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He was described as an industry &quot;veteran&quot; by the officials from Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd, the ship owner, and others who had met him described him as an &quot;expert&quot; who knew the waters he sailed well.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I don&#39;t know why he abandoned the ship like that,&quot; said Ju Hi-chun, a maritime author interviewed the captain in 2006 as one of the experts on the sailing route to Jeju island.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But he added: &quot;Koreans don&#39;t have the view that they have to stay with their ship until the end. It is a different culture from the West.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some media reports have said the vessel turned sharply, causing cargo to shift and the ship to list before capsizing.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Marine investigators and the coastguard have said it was too early to pinpoint a cause for the accident and declined to comment on the possibility of the cargo shifting.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The record of the ferry owner was also under investigation and documents were removed from its headquarters in Incheon.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd is an unlisted company that operates five ships. It reported an operating loss of 785 million won ($756,000) last year.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to data from South Korea&#39;s Financial Supervisory Service, a government body, Chonghaejin is &quot;indirectly&quot; owned by two sons of the owner of a former shipping company called Semo Marine which went bankrupt in 1997.</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:38:00 +0000 Reuters 2435663 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/18/484151/south_korea_ferry.jpg Putin admits Russian forces were deployed to Crimea <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>President Vladimir Putin said Russian forces had been active in Crimea in order to support local defence forces, the first time he has admitted deployment of Russian troops on the Black Sea peninsula.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We had to take unavoidable steps so that events did not develop as they are currently developing in southeast Ukraine,&quot; Putin said in a televised call-in with the nation. &quot;Of course our troops stood behind Crimea&#39;s self-defence forces.&quot;</div> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:32:00 +0000 Reuters 2435661 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/17/39/putin.jpg East Ukraine separatists stay put despite diplomatic deal <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Armed pro-Russian separatists were still holding public buildings in eastern Ukraine on Friday, saying they needed more assurances about their security before they comply with an international deal ordering them to disarm.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The agreement, brokered by the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva on Thursday offered the best hope to date of defusing a stand-off in Ukraine that has dragged East-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Enacting the agreement on the ground though will be difficult, because of the deep mistrust between the pro-Russian groups and the Western-backed government in Kiev, which this week flared into violent clashes that killed several people.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The fact any deal was reached at all came as a surprise, and it was not immediately clear what had happened behind the scenes to persuade the Kremlin, which had up to that point shown little sign of compromise, to join calls on the militias to disarm.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Slaviansk, a city that has become a flashpoint in the crisis after men with Kalashnikovs took control last weekend, leaders of the pro-Russian gunmen were holding a meeting early on Friday inside one of the buildings they seized on how to respond to the Geneva agreement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>On the street, there was little change. In front of the Slaviansk mayor&#39;s office, men armed with Kalashnikovs peered over sandbags which had been piled higher overnight. Separatists remained in control of the city&#39;s main streets, searching cars at checkpoints around the city.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Are we going to leave the buildings so that they can come and arrest us? I don&#39;t think so,&quot; said a man guarding the road to the security office, another building the separatists seized, who identified himself as Alexei.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But he acknowledged that the Geneva talks had changed the situation.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;It turns out Vova doesn&#39;t love us as much as we thought.&quot; said Alexei, using a diminutive term for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president viewed by many of the separatist militias in eastern Ukraine as their champion and protector.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy last month by declaring Russia had a right to intervene in neighbouring countries and by annexing Crimea.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Moscow&#39;s takeover of the Black Sea region, followed the overthrow of Ukraine&#39;s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich, after months of street protests prompted by his rejection of a trade deal with the EU.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the capital, Kiev, people on the Maidan, the local name given to Independence Square which was the centre of protests that eventually toppled Yanukovich, said the barricades would not come down until the May 25 presidential election.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;People will not leave the Maidan. The people gave their word to stay until the presidential elections so that nobody will be able to rig the result. Then after the election we&#39;ll go of our own accord,&quot; said 56-year-old Viktor Palamaryuk from the western town of Chernivtsi.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Nobody will take down our tents and barricades,&quot; said 34-year-old Volodymyr Shevchenko from the southern Kherson region. &quot;If the authorities try to do that by force, thousands and thousands of people will come on to the Maidan and stop them.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Right Sector, a far-right nationalist group whose violent street tactics in support of the Maidan helped bring down Yanukovich in February, saw the Geneva accord as being directed only at pro-Russian separatists in the east.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We don&#39;t have any illegal weapons and so the call to disarm will not apply to us. We, the vanguard of the Ukrainian revolution, should not be compared to obvious bandits,&quot; said Right Sector spokesman Artem Skoropadsky.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Order restored?</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>President Barack Obama said the meeting in Geneva between Russia and western powers was promising but that the United States and its allies were prepared to impose more sanctions on Russia if the situation fails to improve.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;There is the possibility, the prospect, that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation,&quot; Obama told reporters.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The question now becomes, will in fact they use the influence they&#39;ve exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election and move forward with the decentralization reforms that they&#39;ve proposed,&quot; he said at the White House.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Geneva agreement required all illegal armed groups to disarm, it demanded an end to the illegal occupation of public buildings, streets and squares, and gave a leading role to overseeing the deal to monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Geneva that if by the end of the weekend there were no signs that pro-Russian groups were pulling back, there would be costs for Moscow, a reference to further EU and US sanctions.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;It will be a test for Russia, if Russia wants really to show willing to have stability in these regions,&quot; said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Moscow has denied any involvement with the unrest in eastern Ukraine and rejects allegations that it has agents running clandestine operations on Ukrainian soil.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Geneva deal contained no mention of Russia&#39;s annexation of Ukraine&#39;s Crimea Peninsula.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Asked about the absence of any language in the document condemning Russia&#39;s intervention in Crimea, Western diplomats said they remained firm that Russian had acted illegally, and denied they had dropped the issue.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The fact the agreement did not address Crimea could put pressure on Ukraine&#39;s interim government from its own supporters who are adamant that everything should be done to bring the peninsula back under Kiev&#39;s control.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The United States and European Union have so far imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a small number of Russians, a response that Moscow has openly mocked. However, the Western states say they are now contemplating measures that could hurt Russia&#39;s economy more broadly.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But some EU nations at least are reluctant to press ahead with more sanctions, fearing that could provoke Russia further or end up hurting their own economies.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Speaking in Geneva, Kerry also took the opportunity to condemn as &quot;intolerable&quot; suggestions in the eastern city of Donetsk that Jews had been ordered to register with authorities.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Not leaving</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Pro-Russian militants control buildings in about 10 towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on April 6.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Separatists occupying a local government building in the city of Donetsk said they would not leave until supporters of Ukraine&#39;s new government quit their camp around the Maidan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Asked how his group will react to the accord in Geneva, Alexander Zakharchenko, a protest leader inside the Donetsk regional government building, told Reuters by telephone:</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;If it means all squares and public buildings, then I guess it should start with the Maidan in Kiev. We&#39;ll see what they do there before we make our decision here.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In Luhansk, another city where pro-Russian separatists are occupying public buildings, a militia member called Andrey said his group had no plans to withdraw.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Everything on the ground is the same as it was yesterday and the day before and the day before that. We&#39;re not leaving.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Seeking to reassure its eastern allies, NATO announced it was sending warships to the Baltic, while the United States approved more non-lethal military support for Ukraine.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Speaking on Russian television Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an &quot;abyss&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Kiev fears he will use any violence as a pretext to launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian forces.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Instead of realising that there is something wrong with the Ukrainian government and attempting dialogue, they made more threats of force ... This is another very grave crime by Kiev&#39;s current leaders,&quot; Putin said in his annual televised question-and-answer session with the Russian public.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I hope that they are able to realise what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into,&quot; said Putin.</div> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:28:00 +0000 Reuters 2435660 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/18/484151/pro-russian_protesters.jpg Palestinians rally for prisoners as peace talks falter <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Palestinians gathered across the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday for rallies of solidarity with Israeli-held prisoners, as peace talks near collapse after the Jewish state refused to free long-serving inmates.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>To mark Prisoners Day, thousands were expected to demonstrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has his headquarters, and hundreds took part in early rallies in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip late Wednesday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We won&#39;t forget our prisoners -- prisoners first!&quot; read banners in Gaza City as demonstrators set off from mosques across the besieged territory.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The prisoners row caused a new deadlock in US-brokered peace talks at the end of March, just a month ahead of their deadline, when Israel reneged on its commitment to release a fourth and final batch of Palestinian inmates.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Palestinians retaliated by seeking membership of several international treaties, breaking their own commitment under the talks which US Secretary of State John Kerry launched in July.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Prisoners Day has extra importance this year,&quot; said the Palestinian Prisoners Club head, Abdel Al al-Anani.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The prisoners issue has become one of global significance, since it is the reason that peace talks have almost collapsed,&quot; he told AFP.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement: &quot;The plight of the prisoners reflects the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A one-day hunger strike was being observed by inmates to mark the annual show of solidarity with the nearly 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Palestinian prisoners affairs minister Issa Qaraqe told AFP.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Around 30 of them have been held being bars since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords with Israel, said a Palestinian legal rights NGO, Adalah.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Israel has so far released 78 of the 104 prisoners it pledged to free during nine months of peace talks, most of them imprisoned since before the Oslo accords.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But it refused to free the final batch, using it as a bargaining chip to convince the Palestinians to extend negotiations until the end of the year.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Palestinians demand their release before any discussion of an extension.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza, opposes all negotiations with Israel and regards the Palestinian Authority&#39;s meetings with its sworn enemy as &quot;illegitimate.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We are sending a message to the Palestinian negotiators: forget this farce, the futile negotiations, and come back to the resistance which freed prisoners,&quot; a Hamas member said in a speech at Wednesday&#39;s rally.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In June 2006, a group of Hamas and other militants snuck into Israel through a cross-border tunnel, seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and took their prisoner back to Gaza the same way.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He was released on October 18, 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to Israeli rights group B&#39;Tselem, Israel is holding 4,881 Palestinian prisoners, including 175 in administrative detention where they can be detained without charge for renewable six-month periods.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Of that number, 183 are minors, B&#39;Tselem says.</div> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 13:00:00 +0000 AFP 2435641 at sites/default/files/photo/2013/01/21/156431/beit_iksa.jpg