Cruise crash hearings begin
Officials began a series of pre-trial hearings yesterday to work out the details of the tragic night of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster, with captain Francesco Schettino in attendance. Hundreds of people were also present to hear recordings from the black box at the hearings taking place in Grosseto, near the scene of the crash on Giglio island which claimed 32 lives. The giant ship had 4,229 people on board when it struck an offshore reef near Giglio on the evening of Jan. 13, tearing a massive gash in its hull. The vessel quickly took on water and keeled over just a few dozen meters from the shore. Dozens of survivors are suing ship owner Costa Crociere and its US parent company Carnival Corp for hundreds of millions of US dollars. No date has yet been set for the trial, which is likely to be held next year.
Slums raided for Games
Marines and paramilitary police stormed one of Rio de Janiero’s most notorious shantytowns on Sunday, as the city cleans up ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. It took just 20 minutes for the security forces to take over the Manguinhos slum in the predawn raid involving 1,300 police assisted by helicopters hovering overhead and armored personnel carriers carrying 170 marines. No shots were fired, but three people were arrested. Police said that five alleged drug crime bosses that had fled to a nearby favela were killed on Saturday. Authorities said they had seized 60kg of cocaine in the raid. Police also increased their presence in Jacarezinho, a nearby favela and a major crack cocaine consumption center. The two favelas, home to about 70,000 people, are located 10km from downtown Rio and are strongholds of the powerful Comando Vermelho drug gang.
Ladies in White arrested
Authorities have arrested at least 22 members of dissident group Ladies in White as they planned to mark one year since the death of their former leader, the group’s new chief Berta Soler said on Sunday. Soler said the women have been detained since Saturday to keep them from celebrating the one-year anniversary of Laura Pollan’s death. However, she vowed to keep up the pressure against the government. “We will march despite repression by the Cuban government,” she said. Soler said she had reports of at least 12 arrests in Havana, six in Villa Clara and four in Matanzas. The Ladies in White, founded in 2003 by wives and kin of political prisoners seeking their release after a crackdown, have been at the center of efforts to promote change in the country after more than five decades of one-party Communist rule.
Scottish referendum planned
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond were to approve plans yesterday for a referendum on Scottish independence, in a move that could lead to the breakup of Great Britain after 300 years. Cameron, who opposes a Scottish breakaway, will ink the deal in Edinburgh with Salmond, firing the starting gun on two years of campaigning that will pitch them on opposite sides. After months of negotiations, London is expected to give Scotland’s administration the power to conduct the referendum in the autumn of 2014, offering Scots a straight yes-no question on leaving the UK. However, only a minority of Scots appear to back it, with a survey released on Oct. 8 by pollsters TNS-BMRB showing just 28 percent in favor.