Mon, Jul 06, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Comoros president urges calm after Yemeni air disaster

AFP , PARIS

The leader of the Indian Ocean Comoros islands urged restraint on Saturday as thousands of angry expats rallied in France following a plane crash that killed 152 people. Comoran President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi urged members of the Comoran diaspora in Marseille and Paris to show “calm and serenity at a time of contemplation and mourning to secure national and international solidarity.”

His appeal came in the wake of Tuesday’s crash of an Airbus A310 near the islands’ capital Moroni in which all but one of its 153 passengers and crew perished. Police said at least 10,000 people — some wearing black armbands and carrying banners reading “Never again” and “Life is priceless” — marched in memory of the victims in the southern French city of Marseille, home to a large expatriate community.

Organizers put the number taking part at around 40,000.

The disaster has sparked protests among the substantial Comoran community in France over the condition of the 19-year-old Airbus that the airline, Yemenia, used on the final leg of its Paris to Moroni service.

Yemenia initially decided on Saturday to suspend all flights to Moroni in response to the public anger, but later went back on this and said it would run some services. Abd al-Khaleq al-Qadhi, the airline’s chief executive, said the company would run services between the Yemeni capital Sanaa and Moroni.

“We have canceled all additional flights between Sanaa and Moroni but we are keeping the regular, twice weekly flights” between the two capitals, Qadhi said.

Earlier on Saturday, Yemenia issued a statement in Paris saying it would suspend all Moroni flights, citing “serious incidents in recent days and major risks that some passengers posed to airport staff, our company and [other] passengers.”

Since the crash, survived only by a 12-year-old girl now recovering in a Paris hospital, members of the Comoran community have blocked check-in desks in Paris and Marseille for Yemenia flights to Moroni, prompting the airline on Thursday to suspend services from Marseille.

The Comoran ambassador to France, Abdallah Mirghane, and his wife on Friday visited the girl in hospital, a statement issued by the Comoros embassy in Paris said.

Search teams continued meanwhile to scour the waters off the Comoros on Saturday, amid conflicting reports about the discovery of plane wreckage.

Officials in Yemen told state news agency Saba that US helicopters had spotted debris and were trying to recover them.

“Helicopters of the American team which is taking part in search operations have found a large piece of the aircraft floating on the surface of the sea near the coast of the Comoros,” a civil aviation commission linked to the transport ministry said in a statement carried by the agency.

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