KINSHASA, Congo — Two boats capsized over the weekend in separate incidents on Congo’s vast rivers, leaving 70 people dead and 200 others feared dead. Both vessels were heavily loaded and operating with few safety measures, officials said Sunday.
Early Saturday, a boat on a river in northwest Equateur Province hit a rock and capsized, provincial spokeswoman Ebale Engumba said Sunday. She said more than 70 people are believed dead among 100 estimated passengers. She said officials are investigating why the boat was traveling through the darkness without a light.
In a separate incident in Kasai Occidental Province, 200 people were feared dead after a boat overloaded with passengers and fuel drums caught fire and capsized on the Kasai River, a survivor said Sunday. Another survivor confirmed the account and said local fishermen refused to help drowning passengers who jumped off the crowded boat.
“Fishermen attacked the boat and started beating passengers with paddles as they were (trying) to loot goods,” a passenger said. “The fishermen refused to save passengers, instead taking goods into their pirogues. … I survived because I hung onto a jerrycan until another vessel passed by the scene and rescued us.”
The boats that traverse Congo’s rivers are often in poor repair and filled beyond capacity.
New Zealand: Bad weather hampers quake cleanup
Gale force winds and heavy rain hampered cleanup operations today in Christchurch as the city continued to be rocked by aftershocks in the wake of the weekend’s devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake in which at least 100,000 homes and more than 500 commercial buildings were damaged. All schools in the region were closed, no buses were running, and the city’s state of emergency was extended until at least noon Wednesday. An estimated 60,000 homes were reported without water and 10,000 had no power.
Afghanistan: Taliban threaten to attack poll stations
The Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, warning Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote. Taliban threats and intimidation drove down voter turnout in last year’s fraud-marred presidential election, especially in rural areas where security is harder to ensure, and many Afghans this time say they won’t vote for fear of attacks. Voters will choose 249 members of the lower house of parliament from among more than 2,500 candidates.
Vatican: Hints at diplomacy to halt Iranian woman’s stoning
The Vatican raised the possibility Sunday of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save the life of an Iranian widow sentenced to be stoned for adultery. In its first public statement on the case, the Vatican decried stoning as a particularly brutal form of capital punishment. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement that the Holy See “is following the case with attention and interest.” Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of adultery. In July, Iranian authorities said they would not carry out the stoning sentence for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for adultery and other offenses.
Spain: Basque separatist group announces cease-fire
The armed Basque separatist group ETA, under pressure from political allies, announced another cease-fire Sunday, suggesting it might turn to a political process in its quest for an independent homeland. But the Basque regional government immediately dismissed the announcement as meaningless because ETA failed to renounce violence or announce its dissolution. Besides silence on whether it will surrender its weapons, ETA did not say if the truce was open-ended and permanent, like one declared in 2006, or whether it would halt other activities such as extorting money from business leaders or recruiting members.
Oklahoma: Six more quakes
For the second time in less than a week, six small earthquakes have been recorded in a single day in central Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Geological Survey said the six earthquakes Saturday ranged from preliminary magnitudes of 1.5 to 3.3. On Wednesday in the same area about 30 miles from Oklahoma City, geologists also recorded six earthquakes that ranged from a preliminary 1.8 magnitude to 3.1. Another quake with a preliminary magnitude of 2.7 was recorded Friday about 10 miles east of the Saturday temblors. No injuries or damage was reported from any of the earthquakes.
From Herald news services