Posted: 23 Jan 2011 06:32 PM PST
SAO PAULO, Jan 24 — The death toll from floods and landslides that devastated a mountainous region near Rio de Janeiro has reached 806, state authorities said yesterday, as rescue teams scoured the mud for the hundreds still missing.
More than 20,000 people have also been forced from where they live or made homeless in the area, according to the statement posted on the state government's website.
The disaster now ranks as the second-worst recorded in Brazil's history, according to United Nations data published in the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper on Saturday, eclipsed only by a meningitis outbreak that killed 1,500 people in 1974.
Entire hillsides collapsed last week in the Serrana region, about 97 km north of Rio, after the equivalent of a month's rain fell in 24 hours.
Avalanches of mud and water ripped through mainly poor communities, tossing cars atop buildings and burying some families alive.
At least 207 people were recorded missing earlier this week, suggesting the final death toll could be close to 1,000.
Local officials estimated at least 300 were missing.
Fears are now growing about disease. Alexandre Padilha, the health minister, visited the worst-affected town of Nova Friburgo on Saturday, and state health authorities have warned against coming into contact with contaminated river water.
Landslides and flash floods are common in much of Brazil at this time of year, but the scale of the disaster has prompted renewed concerns that authorities failed to plan or take action to prevent the disaster.
Earlier this week, the Brazilian government vowed to set up a national early warning system that could alert communities to approaching natural dangers. — Reuters
Posted: 23 Jan 2011 06:23 PM PST
Prosecutors said yesterday that police had not yet carried out arrest warrants issued for the six republican guardsmen suspected of the shootings in Friday's confrontation.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha and opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama have blamed each other for the deaths, with each side promising new rallies in an escalating political row.
"Restoring political dialogue, respect for the institutions of the state and the expression of maturity and balance is of a vital importance for the present and European future of Albania," a statement from President Bamir Topi and US and European Union ambassadors said Saturday evening.
They said it was "indispensable that law enforcement institutions cooperate with each other to conduct a transparent, professional and unbiased investigation."
The prime minister said he would not allow fresh violence.
"Every attempt from him (Rama) for violence against institutions will have an exemplary punishment," Berisha told a government meeting before his lawmakers approved a parliamentary investigation into the violence. "There will be zero tolerance for those who touch any institution."
Rama told Reuters he was committed to peaceful action.
"The opposition has nothing in common with violence, weapons or internal impulse to take the power through streets. We want to move forward with peaceful resistance and open the way of new possibility for a democratic Albania," he said.
The opposition Socialists have refused to accept the results of a 2009 election which gave Berisha, Albania's dominant post-Communist politician, a second four-year term and accuse his government of corruption and vote fraud. The deputy prime minister resigned this month amid corruption charges.
Friday, their supporters staged a demonstration in central Tirana, pelting Berisha's office building with sticks and stones, prompting police to respond with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon, stun grenades and firearms.
Three civilians died, one of a gunshot wound to the head and two from shots to the chest, in the worst violence in the former Stalinist country since protesters backing Berisha stormed the same government building in 1998.
Video footage showed two of the victims collapse after shots rang out from the courtyard of the government building. About 60 people were wounded and 113 have been arrested. One protester and a policeman remain in critical condition.
One of Europe's poorest countries, Albania is part of Nato but the European Union rejected its application last year to become an official candidate, urging it to fight corruption and establish a functioning democracy and the rule of law.
Urgent diplomatic consultations continued yesterday.
In a move to bolster support, Berisha Saturday gave a bonus of one month's wages to security officials who patrolled the protest Friday, and four months' wages for police officials who were wounded.
Security officials have added coils of barbed wire on the ground around the government building on the capital's main boulevard.
A planned opposition rally yesterday was delayed pending the completion of the last two of three funerals. One funeral, with Rama in attendance, was broadcast live on Albanian television.
The opposition Socialists scheduled a rally for next Friday at the same location in front of Berisha's office. — Reuters
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